Thursday, August 26, 1999

Special to the Star-Bulletin
Lani Kai was featured in television's "Adventures in Paradise."

Entertainer Lani Kai
dies at 63

The singer-composer got
his big break by landing a
role in 'Adventures in Paradise'

By Rod Ohira


Lani Kai represented the image of the handsome, native Polynesian man for viewers of a television series in the early '60s.

"Adventures in Paradise," which starred Gardner McKay, gave Kai his big break in show business. He played a crewman aboard the schooner "Tiki."

Kai, whose real name was George Clarence Dennis James Von Ruckleman Woodd III, died Tuesday at a friend's North Shore home at age 63, says his half-brother Kalai Strode of Glendora, Calif.

Kai also had a feature role in Elvis Presley's hit movie, "Blue Hawaii" and was one of Hawaii's notable songwriters.

His signature song, " Puka Shells," along with "Tutukane" are among his best-known compositions.

"He was a very creative guy and we were working on some songs and scripts for screenplays," entertainer Nephi Hannemann said. "His death is a real shock."

Clayton Naluai of "The Surfers" recalls Kai entertaining in Waikiki in the late '50s.

"We all started at the same time, around 1957," Naluai said. "Before then, entertainment here was mostly just singing. There was no act.

"Like Lani, we started on the mainland. What we did were shows. Lani was very influential here in getting that started."

Kai was born Aug. 15, 1936, on Oahu.

His grandmother, the late Esther Paulson, was a well-known Hawaiian dance teacher in Hawaii. His mother, whose stage name was Lukia Luana, was a stand-in for Dorothy Lamour in her sarong-clothed movies.

Kai was 24 when he signed for "Adventures in Paradise." He had accompanied his mother, who was interviewing for a role in the series, and a casting director offered him the part of the Tiki's crewman.

"I'll always remember Lani as a creative, artistic free spirit," Strode said.

Hannemann says Kai was a "misunderstood genius because he was very eccentric and independent."

Kai is also survived by a brother, Lee Woodd, and half-sister, Junelehua Robertson.

Kai's request that his ashes be scattered at Chun's Reef, Strode said.

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