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Actor James Shigeta is dead at age 81

James Shigeta
James Shigeta
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Actor James Shigeta died peacefully in his sleep on Monday July 28.

Mr. Shigeta was a Hawaiian born third-generation American of Japanese descent. After studying drama at New York University, Shigeta served in the Marines during the Korean conflict, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Starting out as a singer, Shigeta won first prize on TV’s old “Amateur Hour” program featuring host Ted Mack, and later toured supper clubs under the Anglicized name of Guy Brion.

Shigeta’s singing career led to an acting career, first on stage and later in Samuel Fuller’s “The Crimson Kimono” (1959). Fuller explored an interracial romance between Shigeta and the character played by actress Victoria Shaw in this groundbreaking film noir feature. Shigeta’s role was also innovative in that he was playing an Asian detective without an accent. Shigeta spoke his dialog with his own American-English delivery. In 1960, James Shigeta received a group Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer along with George Hamilton, Troy Donahue and Barry Coe.

Shigeta continued his movie career with such films as the very popular screen version of the Broadway hit “Flower Drum Song” (1961), and the Elvis Presley vehicle “Paradise Hawaiian Style” (1966).

During the 1970s and 1980s, Shigeta worked extensively in television with appearances in dozens of TV dramas, including recurring roles on “Medical Center,” and repeated roles on “Simon and Simon,” Magnum P.I.,” and “Murder She Wrote.” He continued to do movie work, appearing in “Midway” (1976), “Die Hard” (1988), and as the voice of General Li in “Mulan” (1998). Shigeta’s last movie appearance was in a 2009 feature, “The People I’ve Slept With,” which featured a mostly Asian cast.

An actor who could play a variety of good guys and bad guys, leading roles and character parts, James Shigeta was among the most highly respected stage, film, and TV performers in show business.

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