Legendary martial artist Sonny Chiba passes away at 82 due to COVID complications

Japanese actor and legendary martial artist Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba, who inspired countless film icons including director Quentin Tarantino, passed away at the age of 82. 

What happened: On Thursday, Chiba’s management company announced that Chiba, an action superstar popularly known for his role in “Kill Bill,” had passed away due to complications with COVID-19, according to NPR.

  • A friend of Chiba’s and the director of his last film, Ryuji Yamakita, said that Chiba died in Chiba Prefecture, Japan in a hospital after getting pneumonia in relation to a coronavirus infection.
  • He was being treated for the virus since Aug. 8, AP News reported. His management company said that Chiba was not vaccinated. 
  • Due to the pandemic, his wake was canceled and his funeral arrangements are still being decided upon. He is survived by his children who are all actors themselves: Juri Manase, Mackenyu Arata and Gordon Maeda. 

A long career: Chiba was a legendary martial artist that was in multiple renowned blockbuster movies like 1974’s “The Street Fighter” with more than 200 credits on IMDb, CNN noted. 

  • Before becoming a martial artist in film, he trained underneath karate master Mas Oyama, founder of Kyokushin Karate, who helped Chiba earn multiple black belts in karate. His martial arts career in films began in the 1960s within Japan. 
  • He was compared to Bruce Lee after appearing in his first big overseas film in 1973 called “Karate Kiba,” but after “The Street Fighter” those comparisons evaporated as he played a ruthless mercenary. 
  • His style of fighting was unique and “brutal,” with Chiba commenting in an interview in 2007, “For me, the most enjoyable role to play is the bad guy.” Despite this, his friend and agent Timothy Beal said that Chiba was a “humble, caring and friendly man,” according to the BBC. 
  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wrote on Twitter about his unique style, “he blended toughness with depth.” 
  • Chiba appeared in both “Kill Bill” movies after Quentin Tarantino’s film “True Romance” had a line about how Chiba was “bar none, the greatest actor working in martial arts movies today.” He was also in 2006’s “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.” 

Reactions on social media: Many who grew up seeing Chiba on the silver screen took to social media to lament about his passing.

Feature Image via Getty (left), YouTube (right)

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