Don Ho, second from left, sits with Sam Kapu, left, Angel Pablo, Patty Swalley and Tokyo Joe, members of his show-business family, in this 1976 photo. CLICK FOR LARGE
Entertainer Don Ho, Hawaii's best ambassador, dies at 76
For five decades, his Waikiki show was the highlight for tourists
Don Ho, the biggest and best-known Hawaiian entertainer of the last 50 years, died yesterday morning of heart failure, his publicist Donna Jung confirmed.
He was 76.
Known worldwide for his recordings of songs such as "Tiny Bubbles" and "I'll Remember You," Ho was a Waikiki showroom headliner for 43 years -- from 1964, when he opened with the Aliis at Duke Kahanamoku's in the International Market Place, until his death.
Island concert promoter and radio personality "Uncle Tom" Moffatt saw what turned out to be Ho's last show Thursday night at the Waikiki Beachcomber and said Ho performed for a full house and got a standing ovation.
DENNIS ODA / STAR-BULLETIN / 1999
Below, Ho hangs out backstage after his show. His executive producer, Haumea Hebenstreit, is in the back. CLICK FOR LARGE
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said that he was informed by the police and the Medical Examiner's Office that Ho had been taken from his Waikiki residence to the Queen's Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 11:59 a.m.
"I've known Don since I was a little kid," said Hannemann, who honored Ho last year with a proclamation at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel for his contributions to the state's music industry. "He wasn't just a local star or a national star. He was an international star."
Hannemann named Ho and "Hawaii Five-O" as the two major contributors to the tourism industry in the islands' history.
Ho was diagnosed with nonischemic cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle not caused by coronary artery blockages, in 2005.
His heart was working at less then 30 percent of normal when he flew to Bangkok, Thailand in November of that year.
"I was going to be a goner," Ho told the Star-Bulletin on returning to Honolulu after the procedure.
DENNIS ODA / STAR-BULLETIN / 2001
At right, Hoku Ho appeared with her dad, Don Ho, at his show at the Waikiki Beachcomber in 2001. CLICK FOR LARGE
But barely a month after he returned from Thailand, Ho was back on stage entertaining capacity crowds with the familiar mix of carefully calculated humor, audience participation, guest artists and classic Ho hits.
Ho joked on stage for years about being "old," and claimed he did "Tiny Bubbles," his biggest hit, twice each show: "Once just in case someone doesn't make it all the way through, and again near the end for people who don't remember."
Eddie Sherman, longtime dean of three-dot columnists in Hawaii, said, "He had a gift. He had magic. You could not really describe it. He didn't have much of a voice. You couldn't understand what he said. He mumbled all the time. But when the show was over, people fell in love with him."
Ho was one of an elite group of Hawaii recording artists of any genre whose recordings appeared on any of the six major Billboard record charts in the 20th century.
In 2001, he became the first Hawaii artist to receive a Record Industry Association of America-certified "gold" record when "Don Ho's Greatest Hits," one of his several albums for Reprise, was certified gold for sales of more than 500,000 copies.
The enduring popularity represented a turning point in the history of Hawaiian music -- and in perceptions of Hawaii. Two generations later, many people still think of Hawaii and Hawaiian music in terms of Don Ho.
The breakthrough occurred when Sonny Burke, a veteran mainland record producer, introduced Don Ho & The Aliis to the American public with a pair of "live" albums assembled from two nights of recordings Burke made at Duke Kahanamoku's early in 1965. The albums captured the energy and ambiance of show as well as Ho's eclectic repertoire -- a mix of hapa-haole standards and local party songs, pop hits of the day and the compositions of entertainer/composer Kui Lee, who wrote "I'll Remember You."
Maile Lee, Kui Lee's youngest daughter, said that although her father died in 1967, Ho kept him alive musically each time the song played.
Ho's television specials solidified his image as an exotic yet hip crooner while also showing off the beauty of an idealized modern Hawaii. Ho personified the romantic ambiance of "paradise."
Ho also displayed his sense of humor when he recorded a local comedy song, "Who Is the Lolo (Who Stole the Pakalolo)."
Don Ho was more than ready for his smash opening in the Polynesian Palace at the Cinerama Reef Towers Hotel in 1970. CLICK FOR LARGE
His split with the original Aliis in 1969 didn't dilute his international appeal. On the other hand, Lee's death in 1967 ended their musical partnership, and the advent of the Hawaiian Renaissance in the early 1970s marginalized his music in the minds of many residents.
But the visitors' love for him never wavered. Tourists and celebrities would not consider their visit to Hawaii complete without seeing Don Ho.
He hosted the "The Don Ho Show" on ABC in 1976-77. One of Ho's most memorable TV appearances was a 1972 cameo on an episode of "The Brady Bunch."
Jerry Hopkins, who had been working with Ho on an authorized biography, described Ho's death as "a tremendous loss for Hawaii, the entertainment world and people in general. He was still selling out (his shows)."
The biography is scheduled for release this year.
Born in 1930 as Donald Tai Loy Ho, he was of Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and German ancestry.
He grew up a people-watcher in Honey's, his parents' neighborhood bar in Kaneohe. Although he listened to everything in the juke box -- American big band swing to traditional Hawaiian music -- he showed no particular interest in music.
He was a football star at Kamehameha, graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and then joined the Air Force. It wasn't until 1959 that he began helping out at the bar and got into music.
"I had no intention of being an entertainer," Ho said. "I just played songs I liked from the radio, and pretty soon that place was jammed. Every weekend there would be lines down the street."
Ho's daughter Dayna said her father is survived by his wife Haumea and 10 children, including seven from his first marriage, to Melva May Ho, who died in 1999: Donald Jr., Donalai, Dayna, Dondi, Dori, Kea and Dwight. With Patricia Swallie Choy, he had two daughters, Hoku Clements and Kaimana Farris, Dayna Ho-Henry said.* Funeral arrangements are pending.
Star-Bulletin reporters Alex DaSilva and Helen Altonn, the Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this story.
"The Don Ho Show!"
"Don Ho: Again!"
"Don Ho Christmas Album"
"East Coast/West Coast"
"With All My Love"
"I Think About You"
"Hawaii's Greatest Hits"
"Tiny Bubbles and Other Hits"
"20 Hawaiian Favorites"
"Don Ho Greatest Hits!"
Source: The Internet Movie Database
FILM AND TELEVISION APPEARANCES
"I Dream of Jeannie" (1967)
"The Hollywood Palace" (1967, 1968)
"The Andy Williams Show" (1969, 1970)
"This is Tom Jones" (1970)
"Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" (1970)
"The Tonight Show" (1971, 1972)
"The Brady Bunch" (1972)
"Sanford and Son" (1976)
"The Don Ho Show" (1976-77)
"Charlie's Angels" (1977)
"Fantasy Island" (1979)
"The Fall Guy" (1981)
"Life Goes On" (1990)
"One West Waikiki" (1996)
"Joe's Apartment" (1996)
"First Daughter" (1997)
"Aloha, Scooby-Doo" (2005)
Source: The Internet Movie Database
Sunday, April 22, 2007
» Patricia Choy was the mother of two of Don Ho's children -- Hoku and Kaimana -- and was not married to Ho. A story on Page A9 of last week Sunday's Star-Bulletin incorrectly said she was his second wife and the mother of three children. Ho's 10 surviving children are Donnie Jr., Donalei, Dondi, Dori, Dwight, Kea, and Kealii Ho, and Dayna Ho-Henry, Hoku Clements and Kaimana Farris.