James Shigeta, top Asian-American actor of early ’60s and ‘Die Hard’ co-star, dies at 81

He starred in such films as “The Crimson Kimono,” “Flower Drum Song,” “Cry for Happy,” “Bridge to the Sun” and, later, as a terrorized executive in the Bruce Willis movie.

James Shigeta, a top Asian-American actor of the early 1960s who starred in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song, died Monday in Los Angeles, publicist Jeffrey Leavitt announced. He was 81.

The handsome Hawaiian, who later appeared as the ill-fated chief executive of the Nakatomi corporation in the Bruce Willis action film Die Hard (1988), had a great two-year run in Hollywood starting in the late 1950s.

Shigeta made his feature debut in Sam Fuller’s Los Angeles-set noir The Crimson Kimono (1959), playing a young detective, and followed that by portraying a young Chinese man in the American Old West who battles a freight line operator (Jack Lord) over a woman in James Clavell’s Walk Like a Dragon (1960).

Shigeta then starred with Glenn Ford and Donald O’Connor as American Navy men billeted in a Tokyo geisha house in director George Marshall’s Cry for Happy (1961). And in Bridge to the Sun, he portrayed a Japanese diplomat who is married to an American (Carroll Baker) at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In Flower Drum Song (1961), set in San Francisco and directed by Henry Koster, Shigeta plays Wang Ta, who’s dazzled by a showgirl (Nancy Kwan) before he realizes an immigrant from China (Miyoshi Umeki) is really the one for him. A natural baritone, Shigeta did all his singing in the film.

The Golden Globes in 1960 named him (along with Barry Coe, Troy Donahue and George Hamilton) as “most promising male newcomer.”

Shigeta later had recurring roles on the 1969-72 CBS drama Medical Center and appeared on episodes of Ben Casey, Lord’s Hawaii Five-OEllery QueenLittle House on the PrairieFantasy IslandT.J. HookerThe Love BoatMagnum, P.I.Simon & SimonJake and the Fatman and Murder, She Wrote.

His film résumé includes Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) with Elvis PresleyNobody’s Perfect(1968), Lost Horizon (1973), Midway (1976), Cage (1989) and the animated Mulan (1998).

Born in Honolulu of Japanese ancestry on June 17, 1933, Shigeta moved to New York and studied at New York University, then joined the U.S. Marine Corps and fought during the Korean War.

He relocated to Japan and became a star on radio and television in that country, then returned to the U.S. to sing on The Dinah Shore Show in 1959. Also that year, he starred with Shirley MacLaine in a production of Holiday in Japan in Las Vegas.

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Rain signs on for new movie ‘The Prince’ starring Bruce Willis

Los Angeles Premiere of "Ninja Assassin" - Hollywood, CA.

Rain is out of the army and heading back to work, to Hollywood with a movie called The Prince. He’ll get to show off some action moves as he stars alongside Bruce Willis and John Cusack in the Brian A. Miller-directed thriller.

The plot unfolds as a former mob enforcer (Jason Patric) finds himself confronting old enemies when his teenage daughter disappears and he returns to Las Vegas to try to find her. Bruce Willis takes the primary villain’s role as the guy who’s got an old score to settle with Patric, while John Cusack plays the hero’s friend and retired mob guy. Rain plays a character named Mark, but his role has not been described.

The cast also includes 50 Cent, Jonathon Schaech, and Gia Mantegna. For such a list of big names, the film’s budget is a modest $15 million, which is hefty by Chungmuro standards but assuredly not by Hollywood’s.

The Prince will be Rain’s first film since the aviation action movie R2B: Return to Base, which he shot before enlisting in 2011; before that he had his Hollywood debut with a supporting role in 2008′s Speed Racer, then took the lead in the Wachowski brothers’ 2009 action movie Ninja Assassin.

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Rain signs on for new movie ‘The Prince’ starring Bruce Willis