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James Shigeta, star of 'Flower Drum Song' and 'Die Hard,' dies at 81

Actor James Shigeta
Universal Studios

Actor James Shigeta, perhaps best known today for his role as Bonnie Bedelia's boss Mr. Takagi in 1988's "Die Hard," has died at age 81, his publicist, Jeffrey Leavitt, announced.

The Hawaiian-born actor also starred in the 1962 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Flower Drum Song," "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" with Elvis Presley, "The Yakuza" with Robert Mitchum, and "Midway."

Shigeta, a natural baritone, did all his singing in "Flower Drum Song," in which he played Wang Ta. He began as a singer, winning first prize on the television talent show, "Original Amateur Hour." He was first billed as "Guy Brion," and performed at supper clubs around the U.S., including the Mocambo and the Los Angeles Players Club.

His path into movies was a roundabout one: He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War, then ended up in Japan where he was signed by Toho Studios. Although of Japanese descent, he did not actually speak Japanese at the time, but became a huge recording star throughout the country, where he became known as "The Frank Sinatra of Japan."

Back in the U.S., the actor made his film debut in Sam Fuller's 1959 film "The Crimson Kimono." The Fuller film was ahead of its time in having the white female lead (Victoria Shaw) fall for Shigeta's cop character rather than his white partner, played by Glenn Corbett.

In 1960, he was named Most Promising Male Newcomer, along with Barry Coe, Troy Donahue and George Hamilton.

His other films include "Cry For Happy," with Glenn Ford and "Bridge to the Sun," in which he played a Japanese diplomat married to an American (Carroll Baker) when Pearl Harbor is attacked.

In the 1970s, he had a recurring role as Dr. Osaka on "Medical Center." He also provided the voice of General Li in Disney's "Mulan."

His other TV roles include appearances on "Ben Casey," "Hawaii Five-O," "Ellery Queen," "Little House on the Prairie," Fantasy Island," "T.J. Hooker," "The Love Boat," Magnum, P.I.," "Simon & Simon," and "Murder, She Wrote."

KING 5's Lori Matsukawi tweeted her respects, saying, "A real Asian American pioneer in a very tough industry. RIP James Shigeta."

In 2006, he was interviewed for the documentary "The Slanted Screen," about the representation of Asian and Asian American men in Hollywood.

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