One of the first prominent Asian-American actors, James Shigeta, died at the age of 81 on Monday.
Shigeta was mostly a television actor, but he also sang and had memorable film appearances, including one in the 1988 action hit movie Die Hard. Starring alongside Bruce Willis, Shigeta played executive Joseph Takagi, the character who was shot in the head by terrorist leader Hans, played by Alan Rickman, for refusing to give him the building’s bank vault security code.
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The longtime actor also starred in the 1976 blockbuster WWII film Midway, which featured a story told from both the American and Japanese points of view. Shigeta portrayed Vice Admiral Nagumo, who played an emotional part showing his devastation at losing the war.
Becoming a singing sensation in Japan despite not speaking Japanese, Shigeta also won a Golden Globe for most prominent newcomer in 1960. His last movie appearance was in the 2009 film The People I’ve Slept With, which was directed by Quentin Lee.
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As for television, Shigeta made countless guest appearances on popular shows including Perry Mason, Ironside, Hawaii Five-O, The Love Boat and even Beverly Hills, 90210.
The all-around star also landed the starring role of Wang Ta in Flower Drum Song, which was adapted from the Broadway musical hit. He also made memorable appearances in Elvis Presley’s musicals Paradise, Hawaiian Style and Lost Horizon.
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Shigeta was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and went to NYU to study acting. He later joined the Marines, and became popular for entertaining the troops during the Korean War. He kick-started his career by winning Ted Mack & the Original Amateur Hour, which was the equivalent of today’s American Idol.
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