“First learn stand, then learn fly.”

Pat Morita, the Oscar-nominated actor who most famously played Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid and Matsuo 'Arnold' Takahashi in Happy Days, has died at age 73.

Morita was prolific outside of the "Karate Kid" series as well, appearing in "Honeymoon in Vegas," "Spy Hard," "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and "The Center of the World." He also provided the voice for a character in the Disney movie "Mulan" in 1998.

Born in northern California on June 28, 1932, the son of migrant fruit pickers, Morita spent most of his early years in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis. He later recovered only to be sent to a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

"One day I was an invalid," he recalled in a 1989 AP interview. "The next day I was public enemy No. 1 being escorted to an internment camp by an FBI agent wearing a piece."

After the war, Morita's family tried to repair their finances by operating a Sacramento restaurant. It was there that Morita first tried his comedy on patrons.

Because prospects for a Japanese-American standup comic seemed poor, Morita found steady work in computers at Aerojet General. But at age 30 he entered show business full time.

"Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did," he commented. "If I tried it in Japan before the war, it would have been considered blasphemy, and I would have ended in leg irons."
I don’t think I’ve ever known someone of my age cohort who hasn’t used the phrase “Wax on, wax off” at least a billion times—and didn’t feel compelled to try to catch an imaginary fly each time they had a pair of chopsticks in hand. Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi left indelible images in my young mind, as I watched The Karate Kid endlessly, not for Ralph Macchio, but for him. I found his character eternally cool, and because he made me curious about Japan, I read Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the story of a Japanese girl, just a baby when the A-bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, who later develops leukemia as a result of her exposure to the radiation—a book which I can honestly say played no small role in my being a liberal today.

RIP Mr. Morita.

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