Rodney Kageyama, 'Gung Ho' Actor and Asian-American Activist, Dies at 77

Courtesy of Michael Palma
Rodney Kageyama

He also appeared in 'Pretty Woman,' 'The Next Karate Kid' and 'Quantum Leap' and was a member of the East West Players theater group.

Rodney Kageyama, an actor who appeared in films and television shows like Pretty WomanGung Ho and Quantum Leap, died Sunday in his sleep in Los Angeles, his husband said. He was 77.

In the Ron Howard movie Gung Ho (1986), starring Michael Keaton, Kageyama played an automobile factory executive named Ito, then reprised the role for a short-lived ABC sitcom that was toplined by Scott Bakula.

He starred opposite Max von Sydow in the 1990 NBC telefilm Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes and appeared in other films like Best Friends (1982), Teen Wolf (1985), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991) and The Next Karate Kid (1994) and on TV in The JeffersonsQuincy M.E.Quantum LeapNewhartThe Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Las Vegas.

Kageyama frequently promoted the need for more Asian-Americans in the media and was affiliated with such social activist and community organizations as the Asian American Pacific Artists Association; the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment; the Asian-American theater group East West Players; the Japanese American National Museum; and the Nisei Week Japanese Festival.

Born on Nov. 1, 1941, in San Mateo, California, Kageyama began his acting career in San Francisco in 1965 as one of the original members of the Asian American Theatre Company, and he attended the American Conservatory Theatre.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and joined East West Players as an actor, director and designer.

Kageyama received a Drama-Logue Award in 1985 for costume design for an EWP production of Roshomon and directed The Grapevine, written by Grateful Crane Ensemble founder Soji Kashiwagi and produced at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, in 1993.

He later played Erronius in an EWP staging of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and was featured in the “Golden Dreams” film exhibit at Disney's California Adventure park.

For the past 10 years, Kageyama has volunteered as a part-time docent at the Japanese American National Museum, where he initiated a storytelling program for children. Last month, he was honored at the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Autumn Festival in Long Beach, California. 

Survivors include his husband, Ken White. A life celebration is set for 5 p.m. on Jan. 12 at the Nishi Hongwanji temple in Los Angeles.