FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Don Ho, who underwent experimental stem cell therapy in December for his heart condition, performed last night at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel.
Ho wows crowd in homecoming
The Waikiki legend returns to the stage after experimental heart treatment in Thailand
Don Ho returned to the stage in top form last night and shared a bit of dark humor aimed at his own critical heart problems.
It was Ho's first appearance since undergoing experimental heart treatment late last year. The 75-year-old entertainment icon made light both of his health and his age.
Catch the legend, live
Don Ho will continue to perform at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel at 8 p.m. on Sundays only. Call 923-3981.
After singing "Tiny Bubbles" early in the show, Ho noted that he always performs the song twice -- "once at the beginning of the night, in case somebody doesn't make it through the show -- guess who that might be -- and a second time for all the people my age who may not remember if we've done it already."
A crowd of nearly 300 filled the showroom at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel and welcomed Ho with a standing ovation. He gave them a show to remember. Ho sang all of his best known showroom hits -- "Nightlife, "I'll Remember You" and "Suck 'em Up" among them -- and invited several celebrities in the audience to join him on stage.
Nina Keali'iwahama sat in on "The Hawaiian Wedding Song," Jimmy Borges sang "The Nearness of You" and Marlene Sai did "Kainoa." Melveen Leed got the most time on stage, and made great use of use of it as she reminisced about the old days in Waikiki.
Leed sang "Iesu Me Ke Kanaka Waiwai," described Ho as "an entertainer's entertainer," and serenaded him with a parody of "Smile."
Ho also acknowledged other celebrities in the audience, including Tom Moffatt, Shep Gordon and Frances Kirk.
Ho presided with his usual self-effacing finesse. He traded one-liners with Leed, and gave his guests room to entertain.
At one point, Ho spoke of his early days headlining Duke Kahanamoku's with the Aliis in 1964 and asked who in the audience remembered those days. Noting that there was little if any response he quipped, "It sounds like all my original fans are dead."
Ho then introduced his guitarist, Benny Chong, one of the original Aliis, asked how many people remembered Benny, and then told Chong that it sounded like all his original fans were dead too.
All of the Hawaii residents in the crowd, and many visitors as well, knew that Ho had undergone experimental stem cell therapy in Bangkok, Thailand in December for treatment of a heart condition that had weakened him to the point where he could no longer perform. He had no problems performing last night.
Mary Prescott, a visitor from California, said she had heard of Ho's health problems. "He looks fabulous," she said. "The energy -- he's doing very well."
Chong had an insider's perspective: "He's a lot stronger than he was before he went through the operation. It's the most he's sung in a long time, and his voice was strong. We (musicians) thought he was only gonna do maybe 45 minutes (after the opening acts), but he sang a lot -- almost twice that."
Leed described Ho as the "foundation" of her career as an entertainer.
"We grew up with him. He was very influential to all of us. Anyone can sing, but he taught us to be entertainers," Leed said afterwards, adding that Ho's rendition of "Days Of My Youth" brought her to tears.
Gordon described the show as "fantastic." Kirk said it would be "a classic memory for a long time." Kimo Kahoano commented that Ho's return to the stage "just goes to show the kind of professional he is."
Although Ho joked about his age, he didn't say much about his recent medical problems until the show was almost over and he thanked the media for "showing so much aloha for responding to the deal."
The final segment of the show consisted of familiar Ho material -- a telephone call to Elvis, acknowledging military personnel and veterans in the audience, and a joke about giving away cassette tapes after the show to anybody who came up and said they were celebrating anything.
Ho's final number was a passionate rendition of "If I Had It To Do All Over Again," which brought the crowd to its feet for a second standing ovation.