James Shigeta, one of the first prominent Asian-American actors, who co-starred in “Die Hard” and starred in “Flower Drum Song,” died Monday at 81.
Though largely a TV actor who guest-starred on dozens of shows, he appeared memorably in hit 1988 action film “Die Hard,” in which he played executive Joseph Takagi, who refuses to give up the security code to the skyscraper’s bank vault when a group of German terrorists seizes the building. He was shot in the head by the group’s leader, Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman.
In the big-budget WWII film “Midway” (1976), which told the story of the key battle from both American and Japanese points of view, Shigeta was featured prominently in the role of Vice Admiral Nagumo, whose despair at Japan’s loss in the battle is moving.
The actor had most recently appeared in the 2009 film “The People I’ve Slept With,” directed by Quentin Lee.
Shigeta was born in Honolulu and studied acting at NYU, then joined the Marines, where he entertained troops during the Korean War. He became a singing star in Japan despite not knowing any Japanese, and won first place on “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” the “American Idol” of its day. He made his film debut in Sam Fuller’s “The Crimson Kimono” in 1959, and won the Golden Globe for most promising newcomer in 1960, sharing it with George Hamilton, Troy Donahue and Barry Coe.
His singing and dancing talent served him well when he landed the starring role of Wang Ta in Ross Hunter’s “Flower Drum Song,” a feature adaptation of the hit Broadway musical.
On TV, he appeared in staples including “Hawaii Five-O,” “Perry Mason,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Ironside,” “Kung Fu,” “Streets of San Francisco,” “The Love Boat” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
He also appeared in films such as Elvis Presley musical “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” and 1973’s “Lost Horizon.”