d. July 21, 2006

Mako, the Japanese actor who had a long Hollywood career in film and television, died July 21 of esophageal cancer at his home in Somis, Calif. He was 72.

He received an Academy Award nomination for his role as the doomed Chinese engine-room hand in “The Sand Pebbles,” and played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sidekick in “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer.”

Beginning in the early 1960s, Mako portrayed henchmen, spies, exchange students, doctors, and many Japanese soldiers and sailors in episodes of McHale’s Navy, 77 Sunset Strip, Burke’s Law, I Spy, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, Amos Burke – Secret Agent, The Green Hornet, The FBI, The Time Tunnel, Kung Fu, Hawaii Five-0, Ironside, Mannix, M*A*S*H, Columbo and many more, up to episodes of Monk and The West Wing in 2005.

His other film roles included “The Ugly Dachshund,” “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell,” “The Hawaiians,” “The Island at the Top of the World,” “The Killer Elite,” “Under the Rainbow,” “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” “Testament,” “Robocop 3,” “Rising Sun,” “Seven Years in Tibet” and “Pearl Harbor.”

In 1976, he made his Broadway debut in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Pacific Overtures,” receiving a Tony nomination for his multiple roles in the story of Commodore Perry’s 1853 visit to Japan.

He was born Makoto Iwamatsu in Kobe, Japan, where he spent World War II with his grandparents. His parents came to the United States in 1938 and spent the war years working for the U.S. Office of War Information. Mako joined them in 1948 and became a U.S. citizen in 1956. He planned to become an architect but fell in love with the theater after a friend asked him to design sets for an off-Broadway play.

After a two-year Army hitch, Mako moved to California and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse, making his film debut in a small role in 1959’s “Never So Few.” In 1965 he helped found the East West Players, an Asian-American theater company in Los Angeles where he served as artistic director for many years.

Mako with Steve McQueen in “The Sand Pebbles.”