Sonny Chiba, Martial Arts Action Star and ‘Kill Bill’ Actor, Dead at 82

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Sonny Chiba, the Japanese martial artist and actor best known to American audiences for his role in Kill Bill, has died at the age of 82.

Star of films like 1974’s The Street Fighter and 1976’s Karate Warriors, Chiba died from pneumonia caused by Covid-19, the Wrap reports (via Japan’s Oricon). The actor had been hospitalized since August 8th.

An action star in his native Japan with over 200 films in his filmography, Chiba — a black belt in karate, ninjutsu, judo and kendo — first began acting in the late Fifties, appearing in films like Invasion of the Neptune Man and Police Department Story series. 

Chiba first became known to American audiences with the 1974 martial arts grindhouse classic The Street Fighter, which was distributed domestically by New Line and became a surprise box office hit, spawning several sequels. The film also inspired Quentin Tarantino, who worked the Street Fighter series into his screenplay for True Romance and later cast Chiba in perhaps his best-known role, the sword craftsman Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill: Volume 1.

Tarantino also borrowed Samuel L. Jackson’s legendary recitation of Ezekiel 25:17 in Pulp Fiction from the Chiba-starring The Bodyguard, which used the Bible verse in its opening moments:

In 2018, the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA released a song titled “Sonny Chiba” dedicated to the action star, while Keanu Reeves called Chiba one of his idols while promoting John Wick, leading to a surprise exchange between the two actors:

A heartwarming meeting between Keanu Reeves and his action star idol, Sonny Chiba. #RIPhttps://t.co/wzJefggOxp pic.twitter.com/acFZv8srTV

— Japan Society Film (@js_film_nyc) August 19, 2021

Outside his prolific career in Japan, Chiba also appeared in American films like Aces: Iron Eagle 3, Immortal Combat and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, where he played a Yakuza crime lord.