Fifteen years ago today, Jack Lord died – the first of the stars of the original Hawaii Five-O to die. In the years since, he's been followed by several of his costars, bringing an end to the cool cop show's era.
While the stars of the first Five-O are gone, the last few television seasons have a new generation determined to book ‘em: the reboot of Hawaii Five-0 (with a zero replacing the letter O of old) premiered in September 2010. We love the new show, but we still miss the stars of way back when. In honor of Jack Lord, let’s take a look back at the Five-O stars we’ve loved and lost.
Jack Lord was the star of the original show (although some would argue that his hair was the real star). Born John Joseph Patrick Ryan, he was a well-rounded kid, with early skills in painting, horseback riding and football – the last of which earned him a scholarship to NYU. He earned his degree in Fine Arts and then began a stint in the Merchant Marine. As an actor, he worked on Broadway, in movies and on TV – and a few years before Hawaii Five-O, he was offered a chance to play Captain Kirk in the first Star Trek series. When Lord requested a bit too much compensation (50% ownership of the show), the role went to William Shatner instead.
That might be just as well, because Shatner was an iconic Kirk, and it left Lord available to take his biggest and most recognizable role – Hawaii Five-O’s Detective Steve McGarrett. The leader of a team of officers who brought down criminals, secret agents and crime rings, McGarrett was also the character who brought us the show’s famous catchphrase – “Book ‘em, Danno!” Hazy memories may make us remember that command coming at the end of every show, but in fact it was only used on some episodes. McGarrett was just as likely to say “Book ‘em – Murder One” or plain old “Book ‘em.”
Jack Lord died on January 21, 1998, at age 77.
Kam Fong Chun – or Kam Fong, as he was billed on the show – was actually born Kam Tong Chun. His first teacher taught him to write his name incorrectly, and after years of confusion, he gave up and legally changed it to the incorrect version. Chun was a Hawaii native who worked at the Pearl Harbor Shipyard and happened to be an eyewitness to the famous 1941 attack there. Later, he became one of Honolulu’s best-known character actors – and served on Honolulu’s police department – before being cast on the show that would bring him nationwide recognition.
Chun’s Hawaii Five-O character, Chin Ho Kelly, was the Hawaiian-Irish family man who quietly got the job done. McGarrett’s third in command, he was known for his affirmatives (“OK, Boss”) and his stern look. After Chun decided to leave the show in its 10th season – because he thought it was getting too predictable – Chin Ho’s character was killed while on an undercover mission. “It was a life that was worth it,” his last words went. “It was a life that mattered.”
Kam Fong Chun himself lived on for many years afterward, dying on October 18, 2002, at age 84, of lung cancer.
Zoulou (his preferred spelling) or Zulu was also a native Hawaiian, born Gilbert Lani Kauhi. He was an accomplished surfer and was well known in Waikiki as a “beachboy” and a DJ.
Zoulou appeared on Hawaii Five-O for the first four seasons as Kono Kalakaua, the burly sidekick. Descended from Hawaiian royalty, Kono was unexpectedly quiet, reserved and ethical. Zoulou didn’t exactly leave the show after season four by choice – he was fired after loudly complaining that his character’s stereotypical portrayal was racist (the “‘yes boss, no boss’ routine,” in his words). However, costars considered him a beloved coworker and recalled how Zoulou helped the rest of the cast pronounce Hawaiian words in the dialogue.
Zoulou died on May 6, 2004, at age 66, from complications of diabetes.
And then there’s Danno, James MacArthur. An L.A. native, MacArthur was a football player in school, as well as the child of show-biz parents – screenwriter Charles MacArthur and actress Helen Hayes. As a young man, he worked extensively on stage and in films, but he – like the others we’ve looked at – is known best for one iconic role.
MacArthur was given the role of Danny Williams after the original actor cast in the part didn’t play well with test audiences who viewed the pilot. Producers remembered MacArthur’s good work in the movie Hang ‘em High and brought him on. As McGarrett’s second in command, Danno was an expert in defusing bombs (a skill which often came in handy), a handwriting expert, and a favorite for undercover work. When MacArthur decided to leave the show after its 11th season, the 12th and final season went on as if he had never been there – no explanation for the departure was offered by the show, and McGarrett never again mentioned his name.
James MacArthur died on October 28, 2010, at age 72, of natural causes.
The new generation of Hawaii Five-0 stars includes Alex O’Loughlin (Moonlight, Three Rivers) as McGarrett; Scott Caan (son of James Caan, he played Turk Malloy in the Ocean’s trilogy) as Danno; Daniel Dae Kim (Jin from Lost) as Chin Ho; and an unexpected gender change with Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica) as Kono. Will the new Hawaii Five-0 last 12 seasons, just like the original? We wish the show all the best and hope it fares as well as its inspiration did. And even if it doesn’t have Jack Lord’s distinctive hair or James MacArthur’s boyish charm working for it, the new show has retained one really crucial piece of the Five-O legacy: that awesome theme song. It just might do the trick.
Written by Linnea Crowther. Originally published November 2010.