GILBERT 'ZULU' KAUHI / 1937-2004

Gilbert Kauhi was known the world over as Zulu, one of the good guys on "Hawaii Five-O." He died Monday in Hilo at age 66.

‘Five-0’ detective
dies from diabetes

Known as Detective Kono
Kalakaua, Zulu was an actor
on the TV show for 4 years

Gilbert Francis Lani Damian Kauhi, known to television viewers worldwide as a "Hawaii Five-0" detective and to friends and fans as Zulu, died Monday at Hilo Medical Center of complications from diabetes. He was 66.

As Detective Kono Kalakaua, Kauhi is remembered for breaking down a door in the opening segment of "Hawaii Five-0." Zulu, a nickname given to him in high school on the Big Island, was also known for his singing voice, wit, independent ways and occasional confrontational manner.

"What a shock, what a truly terrible thing," said fellow entertainer Don Ho. "We were beach boys together growing up. Zulu was probably one of the best canoe strokers of all time; he was incredible."

Soon Zulu will be returned to Waikiki where his ashes will be scattered at sea from a canoe by old friends among Waikiki beachboys.

Niece Laura Kauhi-Leffingwell said that in 1994, Zulu discovered he had high blood pressure. Then diabetes.

"He had open heart surgery four years ago," Kauhi-Leffingwell said. "He was treated for a heart attack a few weeks ago. He's been on kidney dialysis for six years."

He was on a waiting list for a second kidney when he went for dialysis Monday, his mother, Emma Kauhi, said.

During dialysis, his body stopped working, family members said. Doctors took him to the emergency room but could not save him.

Zulu had written instructions that he was under the care of a Honolulu physician who is on vacation until May 24, Kauhi-Leffingwell said. The hospital may not be able to release his body until then, she said. That leaves doubt about when the scattering of ashes will take place.

"I was proud of him," said Emma Kauhi. "He was a good kid and I loved him."

She still calls him "Gil."

His father lost his job as a fireman and the family moved to Honolulu where the father drove a taxi, his mother said.

Gilbert Kauhi, professionally known as Zulu, appeared at a political fund-raiser in March 2003.

She wanted Zulu to attend Kamehameha, but he always put her off. His friends were at the public schools. He dropped out of Saint Louis after the 10th grade and joined the U.S. Coast Guard, never returning to school.

"He graduated in other ways," she said.

As a boy, Kauhi would go off to school with his hair neatly combed, but when he played football, it would become rumpled, he mother said. Since his classmates had studied the Zulu people, they thought his hair looked African and nicknamed him Zulu.

Zulu, who was fired from "Hawaii Five-0" in 1972 after four seasons, had been a disc jockey for radio station KHVH and a stage comedian when he was hired for the TV show.

On March 31, 1986, a car driven by Zulu struck triathlon athlete Ronny Lee Fennell of Kona while Fennell was riding his bicycle on Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

Niece Kauhi-Leffingwell said, "That was a nightmare for him. Uncle Gilbert goes to church every single Sunday. He's a very strong Catholic."

In 1988, Zulu was sentenced to a year's probation for second-degree negligent homicide in the death.

Midweek columnist Eddie Sherman, who made several appearances on "Hawaii Five-0" and knew Zulu well, said "He had a complicated personality, which hurt him sometimes, I think. He had a great opportunity to be a character actor in films but, at heart, I don't think he was that ambitious. He liked being in Hawaii, being a local boy."

Sherman remembered that Zulu sometimes would fall asleep between film scenes, which "really upset" star Jack Lord.

"They take so much time setting up, some people would read, and Zulu would put his head back, nap and snore," Sherman said. "He wasn't that impressed with Jack. It was like 'Who the hell does he think he is! I'm Zulu.' Zulu thought he was just as important as anyone else on the show."

Big Island rancher Larry Mehau, a relative of Zulu's, noted: "He had the ability to really draw a crowd and fire 'em up. When we did the political rallies, Don (Ho) would use Zulu to get the crowd excited, and then we would bring the governor out. He could make people laugh and had the ability to speak several languages, but whether he understood what he was saying I don't know."

Zulu had a band -- "Zulu and the Seven Sons of Hawaii" -- that performed music in seven languages.

He wasn't afraid to confront someone he thought was misbehaving, Mehau added.

"He was a big burly guy ... always ready for action," he said. "He could handle himself if there was a problem."

Mehau remembered often offering Zulu career and personal advice -- which the entertainer usually failed to follow.

"He could be awkward, annoying, even when he thought he was doing well," Mehau said, laughing. "He meant well even when he was intruding. His heart was so big he didn't know when to stop."


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --