DICK JENSEN / ISLE ENTERTAINER
STAR-BULLETIN / 1979
This photo shows local entertainers, from left, Jack and Cha Thompson, Don Ho and Dick Jensen. The Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts selected Jensen as one of this year's five recipients of the HARA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dynamic talent made performer a 'Giant'
The singer and dancer was best known as a showroom star throughout his career
DICK JENSEN, billed as "The Giant" and known to close friends as "Slugger," died yesterday in Kaiser Medical Center after a lengthy battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 64.
Jensen was best known throughout his career as a dynamic showroom performer, a cross perhaps between Sammy Davis Jr. and James Brown.
The Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts selected him as one of this year's five recipients of the HARA Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the local record industry.
Jensen was unable to attend the Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony in March, but a video clip of one of his early performances on the "Ed Sullivan Show" made it clear that his show business moniker, "The Giant," was an apt description of his talent as a vocalist, song stylist and dancer.
Augie Rey, a longtime friend of Jensen's and a fellow entertainer, and several members of the family were present when Jensen died. Rey said Jensen did not appear to be in any pain during his final hours.
"It looked like he was comfortable," Rey said late yesterday. "He was ready to go. He had told us (earlier) of visions he had already had. He was so ready to go."
Tom Moffatt, who had known Jensen throughout his career, described him recently as "the best dancer to ever come out of Hawaii. He was doing the moonwalk before Michael Jackson was doing it."
Born Richard Hiram Jensen, Dick Jensen became a powerful presence in the local teen music scene using the stage name Lance Curtis before moving to the mainland and establishing himself as a top up-and-coming showroom headliner on the national entertainment scene.
His potential as a national mainstream recording artist resulted in a contract with Philadelphia International Records, one of the top soul-music labels of the early 1970s. Jensen thus became part of an entertainment roster that included the O'Jays, Billy Paul, the Three Degrees, the Intruders and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.
Jensen was one of the few Hawaii entertainers of any genre to be signed by a national record label during the second half of the 20th century; his self-titled album for Philadelphia International, and a single, "Going Up on the Mountain" with "Three Cheers for Love" on the flip side, are rarities today.
Jensen returned to Honolulu in the mid-1970s and quickly re-established himself as a local showroom star with engagements at the Oceania Floating Restaurant and the Hula Hut. Jensen's signature number, a fanciful comic story about the Lone Ranger and Tonto in which Jensen single-handedly created all the voices and sound effects, was always a highlight, and every bit as impressive as his singing, dancing and overall showmanship.
Jensen also recorded a single for Moffatt's Bluewater label, "Honolulu Girls" with "On the Beach" on the flip side, and recorded and released an album, "The Writer," on his own label. Jensen was also one of the featured acts in an early local oldies concert at Blaisdell Center Arena.
Jensen's career took an unexpected turn in 1983 when he was arrested, along with his musical director and several others, on drug distribution charges. He pleaded guilty to a cocaine charge and received five years' probation.
Jensen subsequently dedicated his life and musical talents to Christian ministry. He returned to Waikiki in 1993 as a member of an all-star show -- "Hawaii's Very Best" -- with Nephi Hannemann, Loyal Garner, Iva Kinimaka and Melveen Leed. The show was a hit, and Jensen's return to the public stage was welcomed by many who remembered his old-time stage persona, but he eventually decided to concentrate entirely on his Christian ministry.
Survivors include wife Toni; son Brandon; daughters Renee Jensen Oliveira, Jennifer, Summer and Niki; father Edwin Jensen; brothers Hans, Champ, Flash and Rocky; and sister Rose Leialoha Lozano.
Funeral arrangements, and plans for a "Tribute to 'The Giant' -- Dick Jensen" memorial show, are pending.