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Karate Kid Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

1984's "The Karate Kid" was one of the biggest films of that year, a smash hit that made stars out of lead actors Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, and Elizabeth Shue. It's the story of a bullied kid (Macchio) who learns martial arts from his apartment complex's handyman (Morita). The film is a surprisingly grounded drama, exploring racial and economic tensions while still delivering plenty of inspirational sports movie uplift (and of course, crane kicks).

Two sequels, "The Karate Kid Part II" and "The Karate Kid Part III" arrived in 1986 and 1989, respectively. A third sequel, the proto-reboot "The Next Karate Kid," starring Hilary Swank in place of Macchio, came out in 1994. Aside from a loose 2010 remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, the franchise lay dormant until the 2018 YouTube Premium/Netflix series "Cobra Kai," which catches up with the original films' teen heroes and villains, now well into middle age.

There's a poignancy to "Cobra Kai," as the characters reckon with the time — and the people — that they've lost. Over the years, many actors from this 37-year-old franchise have unfortunately died — some after decades of acclaimed work, some all too soon. Let's take a look at a few who you might not have realized had passed away.

Ed Asner

While it certainly isn't the franchise he's best known for, veteran film and TV actor Ed Asner appeared in three episodes of "Cobra Kai," including the pilot. As Sid, the no-nonsense stepfather to middle-aged, washed-up former karate champ Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), Asner's presence makes the most out of a small role, setting up an antagonist for Johnny to prove himself against on his road to redemption.

Asner's career spanned theater, film, and television across an amazing eight decades. After serving in the Army and stationed in France during the Korean War, Asner began acting on stage in Chicago and New York before jumping into television in 1957. During his career he won seven Emmy awards and was the first actor to win an Emmy in both the Comedy and Drama categories for playing the same character, irascible TV station manager-turned-newspaper editor Lou Grant in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant." In the last two decades, Asner was perhaps most known for playing Santa Claus in the Will Ferrell comedy "Elf," and for voicing the curmudgeonly Carl Fredericksen in Pixar's "Up."

Asner died on August 29, 2021 at age 91, though he was still working right up until the end. He has several voiceover roles still due to be released in 2022.

Bud Ekins

James "Bud" Ekins has a bit role as Jack Russell in "The Next Karate Kid," the 1994 franchise reboot starring Hilary Swank. Many of his credited acting roles are little more than cameos in films produced by his daughter Susan, such as "The Specialist" and "Vegas Vacation." Ekins was never much of an actor, but he was one of the most celebrated stuntmen in Hollywood history.

Though born in Hollywood in 1930, Ekins would fall into the movie business by chance. An avid motorcycle racer, his bike shop became a go-to hangout in the early 1960s for adrenaline-addicted movie stars such as Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. His film career began in 1963 with "The Great Escape," where he doubled for McQueen on possibly the most famous motorcycle jump in cinematic history. Ekins would be McQueen's stunt double on several more films, such as "Bullitt" and "The Cincinnati Kid," and he did stunt work on some of the biggest, car crashing-est films of the '70s and '80, including "National Lampoon's Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers."

Ekins retired after 30 years of Hollywood stuntwork. He died on October 6, 2007. He is a member of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame, as well as the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Diana Webster

British actress Diana Webster has a one-scene role in "The Karate Kid Part III" as Margaret, secretary to the film's main villain, cigar-chomping toxic-waste magnate Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). As Silver sits in a tub and plots to defeat Daniel LaRusso with the help of "karate's bad boy" Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), Margaret takes notes ever so disapprovingly.

Born in Manchester in 1924, Webster made a few films in her native England before making a name for herself as a prolific American television actress in the 1970s, often playing secretaries and nurses. She appeared in the early Marvel TV movies "Dr. Strange" and "Captain America" and had one-episode stints on "Fame," "The Jeffersons," and "Empty Nest," among many others. Her longest-running role was as Lavinia Peach on the hit daytime soap "Days of Our Lives," which she played from August 1985 to May 1986.

"The Karate Kid Part III" was Webster's next-to-last acting role, followed by an episode of "Murder, She Wrote" in 1992. She died on October 19, 2010 at age 86.

Jan Triska

While Jan Triska's contribution to the "Karate Kid" cinematic universe is relatively small — he played Terry Silver's butler Milos in "Part III" — the Czech actor had a long, respected career in his native country, both before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Triska joined the National Theatre in Prague at the age of 22, the youngest actor in the company, and his film career started not long after. He appeared in dozens of Czechoslovakian films and televisions series, and in 1968 was a (literal) voice of protest, taking to the airwaves in defiance of the Soviet invasion with the words of his friend, the playwright Vaclav Havel (via Radio Prague International). In 1977, Triska emigrated to the United States via Canada and took mostly minor film and TV roles in "Airwolf," "2010: The Year We Make Contact," and a six-episode stint on "Days of Our Lives."

In 1991 he returned to Prague, in the newly formed Czech Republic, and won acclaim for the lead role in "The Elementary School." After that he split his time between Czech Republic and the US, appearing in "Ronin" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt," directed by his countryman Milos Foreman. In 2017 he fell off a bridge in Prague in an apparent accident, and died on September 25 from injuries sustained.

Joseph V. Perry

At the beginning of "Part III," poor Uncle Louie has taken ill and called Daniel's mother Lucille (Randee Heller) back to New Jersey to care for him, leaving Daniel under the care of Mr. Miyagi. While the role of Uncle Louie is very important from a plot standpoint, it leaves actor Joseph V. Perry with not much to do but act from a bed.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1931, Perry's acting career stretched back to the golden age of television. He often played working class characters like police, soldiers, clerks, and cowboys. This was an era when it was more acceptable for character actors to appear on a series multiple times in different roles, and Perry put in the hours on some of the biggest hits of the era — "Gunsmoke," Death Valley Days" and "I Dream of Jeannie" among them.

While his career had slowed down by the 1980s and '90s, he remained working up until his death in 2000, with his final role, a recurring part on "Everybody Loves Raymond" as pizzeria owner Nemo. It would become arguably the biggest role of his career.

Frances Bay

Canadian actress Frances Bay makes two appearances in the "Karate Kid" series as neighbor to the LaRusso family. In the original film she is credited as "Lady with Dog," and welcomes Daniel to California by telling him to go back to New Jersey. She returns in "Part III," now given the name Mrs. Milo, to inform Daniel and Miyagi that their apartment complex is being demolished to make way for condos.

After getting her start on the radio in Canada, Bay retired for decades in order to raise her family. When she returned to show business in her late fifties, she made up for lost time, amassing a huge body of work in film and TV and becoming one of those most recognizable "Hey it's what's-her-name!" character actors of the last 40 years. From wearing a Gene Simmons mask as Happy Gilmore's grandmother, to getting her marble rye stolen by Jerry Seinfeld, to becoming an unlikely muse for director David Lynch, Bay's most famous roles often brought a dark, acerbic edge to her "sweet little old lady" appearance.

In 2002 Bay was in a car accident, necessitating the partial amputation of her leg, but she kept on working until her death from pneumonia complications in 2011.

Rob Garrison

As Tommy, who famously shouts, "Get him a body bag!" during the first film's climactic karate match, Rob Garrison made himself the most memorable of the non-Zabka Cobra Kai bullies. But memorability doesn't always equate to success, and like many of the young actors in these films, Garrison had trouble maintaining his career as he got older. After a handful of film and TV appearances in the 1990s, including "Coach" and "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues," Garrison returned to his hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia, where he entered the restaurant business while continuing to act on stage.

In 2019, Garrison returned to the role of Tommy in the "Cobra Kai" Season 2 episode "Take a Right," reuniting him with not only series star Zabka, but original "Karate Kid" castmates Ron Thomas and Tony O'Dell as well. In the episode, Johnny and the OG Cobra Kai squad take a motorcycle trip together, where it is revealed that Tommy has cancer; for him, the trip is a last hurrah and a chance to reconcile with his former friends. In an unfortunate case of life imitating art, Garrison was hospitalized several months after the episode aired for liver and kidney issues. He died on September 27, 2019.

Nobu McCarthy

When it came time for Japanese Canadian actress/model Nobu McCarthy to play Mr. Miyagi's long-lost love Yukie in "The Karate Kid Part II," she was ahead of the curve, having already played Pat Morita's love interest in an episode of "Happy Days," some twelve years earlier. That one-episode appearance is indicative of McCarthy's long career in film and television, filled with guest appearances on shows such as "Batman" and "Perry Mason" in the 1960s, and later "Magnum, P.I." and "China Beach."

Born Nobu Atsumi in Ottawa, Canada and raised in Japan, McCarthy studied dance and worked as a model before marrying American soldier David McCarthy and moving to the United States. Her acting career began in earnest after being cast opposite Jerry Lewis in Frank Tashlin's "The Geisha Boy." In addition to her on-screen appearances, McCarthy spent many years as a member, and later artistic director, of the Asian American theatre company East West Players. She also taught acting at California State University and UCLA.

In 2002, while on location in Brazil shooting the Japanese film "Gaijin – Ama-me Como Sou," McCarthy suffered an aneurysm. She died on April 6 at age 67.

Danny Kamekona

"The Karate Kid Part II" was Hawaiian actor Danny Kamekona's feature film debut. Prior to landing the role of Sato (Mr. Miyagi's Okinawan arch-rival), Kamekona was an in-demand television actor, making regular appearances on Hawaii-set series "Hawaii Five-O" and "Magnum, P.I.," as well as any mainland series that "went Hawaiian" for an episode or two. He turned up on "Sanford and Son," "Barnaby Jones," and "The Rockford Files," among many others.

Born in Hilo on the Big Island, Kamekona studied music and acting as a child, eventually attending Brigham Young University–Hawaii. After appearing in "Part II," his opportunities in film expanded; he had small roles in "Problem Child" and "Honeymoon in Vegas," and reunited with Pat Morita on the 1988 Jay Leno comedy "Collision Course." Kamekona still continued his television work during this time, co-starring in the short-lived 1960s revival series "Burke's Law" in 1994.

Kamekona spent the last years of his life splitting his time between Hawaii and Los Angeles. On May 2, 1996 he was found dead in his LA apartment. No cause of death was ever released, though according to his sister he had recently undergone a heart valve replacement.

Pat Morita

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita almost didn't play Mr. Miyagi. "Karate Kid" producer Jerry Weintraub originally sought out a more dramatic actor for the role; Morita, who at the time was known mostly for his stand-up comedy and sitcom work, had to audition five times before finally getting cast. The film was a massive success, earning Morita an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and changing the trajectory of his career.

Morita was born in California in 1932. As a child he developed spinal tuberculosis and spent many of his boyhood years confined to hospitals, unable to walk. As a young man he worked in his family's restaurant in Sacramento, and later for the California Department of Motor Vehicles and aerospace giant Lockheed before trying his hand at stand-up comedy. Mentored by legendary comedian Redd Foxx, Morita confronted the racist attitudes of the day in his acts. At the same time he began acting in film and television; his most famous role pre-"Karate Kid" role was the titular owner (well, the character's real name was Mitsumo "Arnold" Takahashi) of Arnold's diner on "Happy Days."

Morita would officially play Mr. Miyagi in a total of four films, though many of his subsequent roles spoofed or referenced the role. In the 1990s he co-starred in the Nickelodeon series "The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo" and voiced the Emperor of China in Disney's "Mulan" and the video game series "Kingdom Hearts." In 2005, Morita died of kidney failure in his Las Vegas home.