Sad news has just come in as veteran actor and world-famous martial artist Sonny Chiba has passed away. Chiba, known for his role in The Street Fighter and its many sequels among dozens of other martial arts movies, reportedly died in a hospital in Kimitsu City on Thursday. According to his agency, Chiba had been admitted on Aug. 8 due to complications from pneumonia caused by COVID-19, and he unfortunately never recovered. He was 82 years old.
Sadeho Maeda, aka Sonny Chiba, was born on Jan. 22, 1939, in Fukuoka, Japan. He is credited as one of the first actors to achieve international stardom through his skills in martial arts, making him a pioneer of the genre. While attending university, Chiba began studying martial arts under the tutelage of Kyokushin Karate master Masutatsu “Mas” Omaya, whom he’d later portray in a series of movies. Chiba would earn his first-degree black belt by 1965, and the prolific martial artist would later hold black belts in the arts of Ninjutsu, Goju-ryu karate, Shorinji Kemp, Judo, and Kendo.
As an actor, Chiba began his career in the early 1960s, picking up major roles on the superhero shows Seven Color Mask and Messenger of Allah. He would make his movie debut in 1961’s Invasion of the Neptune Men, leading to many collaborations with Kinji Fukasaku that started with that year’s Drifting Detective: Tragedy in the Red Valley. Chiba was quick to pick up roles on both the big and small screen in the years from there, at one point operating his own training school for aspiring martial arts actors and stunt performers called Japan Action Club.
One of Chiba’s most popular roles was his international breakout performance in 1974’s The Street Fighter, which was a hit in the United States when it was dubbed and released by New Line Cinema. Initially, Chiba had been using the stage name Shinichi Chiba, but it was New Line’s Bob Shaye who bestowed him the new nickname of “Sonny.” The actor would then stick with the Sonny Chiba name for the rest of his career.
Chiba would return for multiple sequels to The Street Fighter. He is also known for roles in other movies like The Bullet Train, Karate Warriors, Doberman Cop, Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon, and The Assassin. He’d ultimately appear in more than 125 movies for Toei Studios and win numerous acting awards in Japan. The Japan Action Club that he established is still in operation, though now it’s called Japan Action Enterprise. Certainly, Chiba made a very big mark on this world while he was here.
Quentin Tarantino, one of the late actor’s biggest fans, cast Chiba for a key role in Kill Bill in 2003 as a way of paying tribute to Chiba’s work in the genre. In the movie, Chiba played Hattori Hanzo, the owner of a sushi restaurant and retired sword craftsman. Although the character had vowed to never forge a sword again, he agrees to do so for the Bride (Uma Thurman) once he learns of her plan for revenge against Bill (David Carradine).
Our thoughts are with Chiba’s family and friends at this time. Because of the incredible legacy he had built, it’s certain that Chiba will be remembered forever. Rest in peace. This news comes to us from Yahoo! Japan.