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A hero to science fiction fans and the Asian community alike, George Takei was an actor, writer and activist who earned his place in pop culture history as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the starship Enterprise on "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-68) and six of its subsequent feature film spin-offs. Takei had been a prolific actor on television and in films and theater prior to "Star Trek," and he continued to appear in a wide variety of projects after its demise, including the science fiction series "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010) and as a popular guest announcer for Howard Stern's radio program. A well-known political activist in San Francisco and West Hollywood, Takei also brought a familiar and friendly face to the debate over gay rights and gay marriage after revealing his own homosexuality in 2005, shocking many a Trekkie with his longtime closeted way of life. Whether it was for his iconic signature role as the dedicated Enterprise helmsman, the unmistakable tenor of his baritone voice, or for his work as an advocate within the Japanese and gay communities, Takei continued to engender the admiration and devotion of generations of fans.Born George Hosato Takei (pronounced Ta-kay) on April 20, 1937, he was the son of...
A hero to science fiction fans and the Asian community alike, George Takei was an actor, writer and activist who earned his place in pop culture history as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the starship Enterprise on "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-68) and six of its subsequent feature film spin-offs. Takei had been a prolific actor on television and in films and theater prior to "Star Trek," and he continued to appear in a wide variety of projects after its demise, including the science fiction series "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010) and as a popular guest announcer for Howard Stern's radio program. A well-known political activist in San Francisco and West Hollywood, Takei also brought a familiar and friendly face to the debate over gay rights and gay marriage after revealing his own homosexuality in 2005, shocking many a Trekkie with his longtime closeted way of life. Whether it was for his iconic signature role as the dedicated Enterprise helmsman, the unmistakable tenor of his baritone voice, or for his work as an advocate within the Japanese and gay communities, Takei continued to engender the admiration and devotion of generations of fans.
Born George Hosato Takei (pronounced Ta-kay) on April 20, 1937, he was the son of real estate agent Takekuma Norman Takei and Fumiko Emily Nakamura; Takei's father was an Anglophile and named his son after the recently coronated George VI of England. At the height of paranoia following the 1941 sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, the family, along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans, were taken from their homes and placed in concentration-type camps. In 1941, the Takei family was interred at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas and later the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in California. Takei would detail the pain and anger he felt as a result of the experience in his 1994 autobiography To the Stars, as well as how it informed his own views on politics in America and his decision to become an active participant in local and national government issues.
Post-war, Takei and his family returned to Los Angeles, and after graduating from Mount Vernon High School and Los Angeles High School, began his studies in architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. A newspaper ad looking for Asian actors to provide English dubbing for the Japanese monster movie "Rodan" (1956) led to subsequent dubbing jobs and onscreen acting roles on television on such shows as "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961) and in such film as "The Ice House" (1960). He eventually transferred to the University of California Los Angeles, where he earned both a bachelor's and master's degree in theater. His acting education continued at both the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon in England and Sophia University in Tokyo before returning to the United States for training at the Desilu Workshop in Hollywood.
After a brief stint in New York with the play "Fly Blackbird," Takei returned to Los Angeles and found work in films and television. Frequently cast in supporting roles as a Japanese soldier in such films as the JFK WWII biopic "PT 109" (1963), he made an impression as a young Japanese-American struggling with racism in a controversial 1964 episode of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1965) before meeting with producer Gene Roddenberry for a new science fiction series he viewed as "'Wagon Train' (NBC/ABC, 1957-1965) to the stars." Roddenberry's vision of the future saw the human race fully integrated and working together in harmony - a fairly bold statement for a science fiction series in the late-'60s - and Takei was cast as Lt. Hikaru Sulu, helmsman for the U.S.S. Enterprise. Sulu made his first appearance on the series in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second "Star Trek" pilot - the original pilot, "The Cage," had been rejected by the network - which saw him as the ship's botanist. Sulu was quietly promoted to helmsman for the remainder of the series, which saw him lend cool support to lead stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in many of their adventures. On several occasions, the character took a more central role in an episode, such in "The Naked Time," in which Takei got to show off his fencing skills when a water-borne alien virus induces delusions in the crew, pushing Sulu to believe himself to be the reincarnation of fictional Musketeer, D'Artagnan. Sulu also succumbed to alien spores which nearly caused him to leave the Enterprise in "The City on the Edge of Forever," and was reduced to infancy when the ship entered an anti-matter universe in "The Counter-Clock Incident." Like many of the supporting cast on "Star Trek," Sulu took his lumps, but remained cheery and professional throughout his tenure on the show, despite having growing issues with its sometimes egotistical star, Shatner.
The producers planned to flesh out Sulu's role with the launch of the second season, but Takei's participation in John Wayne's overwrought Vietnam war fantasy "The Green Berets" made him unavailable for many episodes. In response, Roddenberry created a new character, Russian Ensign Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), to stand in for Sulu as helmsmen. When shooting wrapped on the Wayne film, Takei returned to work on "Star Trek" and soon made fast friends with his new co-star. However, the pair soon found themselves out of work at NBC. Despite its rabid following, the ratings on "Star Trek" could not support the cost of producing the show, and it was axed by NBC in 1969; as unbelievable as that would seem to Trekkies decades later.
Unlike many of his "Star Trek" castmates, Takei had little trouble finding work after the show's demise, and seemed more than happy to participate in the spin-offs and conventions that followed in its wake. Takei returned to regular guest appearances on television series while developing an interest in local programming and government. From 1971 to 1973, he and actress Beulah Quo produced and hosted a public affairs show in Los Angeles called "East/West," and he later ran for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, which he lost by only a narrow margin. The loss forced Takei to consider the future direction of his career, and he ultimately decided to focus most of his energy in acting while retaining an interest in civic affairs. Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley recognized his passion for public duty and appointed him to the board of directors for the Southern California Transit District, where he served from 1973 to 1984. Takei, in fact, delivered the tie-breaking vote that resulted in the creation of the Los Angeles subway system in 1978. In addition to this myriad of duties, Takei also found time to co-author a science fiction novel, Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe, in 1979.
Takei reprised Lt. Sulu in the Emmy-winning animated "Star Trek" series (NBC, 1973-75) before returning to the role in the flesh for Robert Wise's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979). Sulu's role in the picture was limited once again to support, though he had received a promotion to Lieutenant Commander in the years between the series and the feature. The film endured endless complications during and after its shoot, and received a less-than-warm response from critics due to its length and slow pace. But it was popular with audiences, and a sequel was announced in 1982. Takei, however, was less than enthused about returning to the part, which had earned little screen time in the previous film. The intervention of William Shatner helped to change his mind, so Sulu enjoyed a more substantial role in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." He was promoted again - this time to commander and educator - along with Nimoy's Spock. In the film's opening, both are seeing suffering fatal wounds in a Klingon attack, only to reveal that the combat was a training exercise for Starfleet Academy students. Well-received by critics and audiences alike, "The Wrath of Khan" ensured that a franchise could be built from the "Star Trek" series.
In subsequent "Star Trek" features, Takei was adamant about not letting Sulu blend into the background action, and enjoyed his own moments of adventure in most of the films. In "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986), he not only piloted the Klingon Bird of Prey that brought the revived Spock and crew back to Earth, but enjoyed a few moments of nimble comedy when Sulu, along with McCoy (DeForest Kelly) and Scotty (James Doohan) are pressed into conning a Plexiglass company for building materials in order to convert the Bird of Prey's cargo bay into a whale tank. Sulu later commandeered a helicopter to transport the Plexiglass. That same year, Takei received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as a Grammy Award nomination for his participation in the audio book adaptation of "Star Trek IV."
In "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989) - the least successful film in the franchise starring the original cast - Sulu joins the passive mutiny that wrestles the Enterprise from Kirk, when he and others on board fall under Spock's half-brother Sybok's influence. The franchise's final outing, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991), found now Captain Sulu in command of the U.S.S. Excelsior, which he used to rescue Kirk and McCoy from life sentences after being framed for the murder of a Klingon ambassador. By then, Takei was lending his distinctive voice to numerous "Star Trek"-related games and audio books, and even reprised the role in an episode of "Star Trek: Voyager" (UPN, 1995-2001). His life outside of acting was busy as well; President Bill Clinton had appointed him to the board of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, with which he served two terms. He was later bestowed the Order of the Rising Sun award from Japanese Emperor Akihito for his service to both countries.
Takei was an in-demand voiceover actor throughout much of the 1990s; among his animated credits during this period were that of First Ancestor in the Disney feature "Mulan" (1998) and multiple episodes of "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ). Takei was also happy to poke gentle fun at his "Star Trek" past in various television shows; in "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001), he encountered the show's cast of real aliens at a science fiction convention, while in the short-lived "Brotherly Love" (NBC/The WB, 1995-97), he played a man who was a committed fan of "Star Trek" and actor George Takei in particular. In 1991, he and other "Star Trek" actors placed their hand and footprints in the legendary walkway outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
During this period, Takei also began a long and decidedly unexpected relationship with radio shock jock Howard Stern and his program. He was invited onto the show in 1994 to promote his autobiography, To the Stars, and was prompted to speak about his long-standing problems with Shatner during the making of the original series. Stern was taken with Takei's friendly demeanor and asked him to record several sound bites, many of which were played numerous times on subsequent shows. In 2006, he was named official announcer for Stern's show on Sirius Radio, and frequently credited Stern for the revived interest in his career.
Takei's sexuality was a matter of semi-public record among "Star Trek" devotees, but he did not affirm his status as a gay man until a 2005 interview with Frontiers magazine. He received considerable air time to discuss his sexuality on the Stern show, which treated the subject with surprising respect, and the host later presented Takei with a Freedom of Speech award on behalf of the radio trade publication Talkers. He soon became a popular and well-respected spokesman for gay rights and tolerance; in 2006, he launched a national speaking tour called "Equality Trek," which encouraged others to share similar stories in a positive environment. That same year, he joined Korean actress-comedienne Margaret Cho as narrator of the Peabody Award-winning radio documentary "Crossing East," which explored the history of Asians in America.
In 2007, Takei was cast on the action-fantasy series "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010) as the stern businessman father to Masi Oka's time-traveling superhero. Though Takei's character was dispatched in a second season episode, the producers indicated that he may return and even reveal a super power of his own in subsequent seasons. That same year, he again reprised Sulu for "Star Trek: New Voyages," an Internet-only series produced for and by fans of the show. He was also on the receiving end of numerous awards and accolades that year; not only did Leonard Nimoy present him with the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Award, but astronomers paid tribute to the former Enterprise crew member by naming an asteroid, 7307 Takei, after him.
The following year was marked by more appearances in film and on television, including a turn as himself in the Adam Sandler comedy "You Don't Mess with the Zohan." But the biggest news from Takei in 2008 was the announcement that he would wed his longtime partner, Brad Altman, at a ceremony outside Los Angeles' Japanese-American Museum, which Takei helped found. "Star Trek" co-stars Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), were the best man and maid of honor, while Leonard Nimoy was among the guests. Takei continued to keep busy with gigs that included voicing the world-devouring alien Galactus for several episodes of the cartoon adventure series "The Super Hero Squad Show" (Cartoon Network, 2009- ). He made a brief feature film appearance as a college professor in the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts romantic-comedy "Larry Crowne" (2011), in addition to a recurring role on the short-lived adventure show, "Supah Ninjas" (Nickelodeon, 2011). In the fall of 2011, Takei was announced as one of the contestants on the upcoming season of Donald Trump's celebrity version of "The Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ), a development made all the more interesting in light of The Donald's anti-gay marriage statements years earlier.
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CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
Mr. Sulu's first name is Hikaru.
In 1986 Takei became the first Japanese-American actor to be granted a star on Hollywood's fabled Walk of Fame.
Takei was nominated in 1988 for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording for the novelization of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home".
Takei is a recipient of the Scotsman First Award, for the play "Undertow" by Simon Wincelberg, performed at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival (1988)
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