Trilingual actor, civil rights activist, and all-around awesome human being who also happened to play Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek: The Original Series.
George Hosato Takei was born on April 20, 1937, in Los Angeles, California. During his childhood, he and his family were sent to World War II incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. It was a miserable time, but at least George was too young to understand that and was content enough under the circumstances. It was there that young Takei's desire to act was born: the camp would screen Japanese movies for the internees, and there would be a single man off to the side of the projection screen, called in Japan a Benshi, providing an English dubbed voice for all the characters. Takei wanted to be that guy. You can read about his experiences in the graphic autobiography he wrote on it, They Called Us Enemy.
Returning to Los Angeles after this, Takei and his family endured residual hatred for Japanese-Americans that lingered after World War II; they also moved into a primarily Latino neighborhood, where Takei picked up fluency in Spanish. He would go on to minor in Latino studies in college.
In the 1960s he made appearances on shows like Mission: Impossible and The Twilight Zone, and he got some movie parts (Walk, Don't Run). But it was his groundbreaking role as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek that made him a cultural icon, as one of the first and only non-stereotypical Asian characters on mainstream American television. Reportedly every Asian-American actor wanted the role, since Sulu was allowed to speak with an American accent, didn't do (Asian) martial arts,note and was not a crude caricature (remember: this was more or less contemporary with the yellowface characters in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Charlie Chan).
However, when Takei took some time off to appear in the John Wayne film, The Green Berets, prepared 2nd season Trek plots that would have featured Sulu were reworked to put the new character, Pavel Chekov, in that spotlight. That was initially a cause for some friction for Takei with the new castmember, Walter Koenig, but they soon settled their differences and became close friends as their characters became an iconic pair at the helm of the USS Enterprise.
Takei campaigned heavily to helm a TOS-era spinoff, Excelsior (named after Sulu's own Excelsior-class starship), but 'twas not to be. However, he would go on to portray Sulu in Star Trek: The Animated Series, in six subsequent Star Trek movies, and led the Excelsior into action in Star Trek's 30th Anniversary special, "Flashback" (Star Trek: Voyager). He also co-starred in an episode of the fan work Star Trek: New Voyages.
After Star Trek, he ran for City Council in Los Angeles, losing by only about 1500 votes.note However, his civic hopes were not in vain, as he would later be appointed to the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District. He also took part in the political crusade to hold America to account for the state-sponsored repressions of World War II, leading to an official apology and monetary compensation.
In the 2000s, Takei gained new fame by appearing regularly on The Howard Stern Show, giving birth to his own Memetic Mutation: "Ohhhhhh myyyyyy." He also appeared as Hiro's dad on Heroes and voiced animated Asian characters such as the Fa ancestor from Mulan, a Fire nation jailor in Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Emperor Yoshiro, leader of the Empire of the Rising Sun in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, where he gave us this lovely bit of Memetic Mutation. He voiced Separatist general Lok Durd in an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, making him one of the first actors to have a role in both of the two largest "Star" franchises. He has played two mentorial roles in the Transformers franchise, first as Master Yoketron, Prowl's cyber-ninja mentor from Transformers: Animated, and Optimus Prime's mentor, the archivist Alpha Trion in Transformers: Prime. Oh, and he also voiced Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds himself, in The Super Hero Squad Show.
In 2006, he officially came out of the closet as a gay man, although many of his friends, family, and coworkers had long known this (for instance, by their account, pretty much the entire cast of Star Trek knew or at least strongly suspected, but never said anything). In 2008, he married his partner of twenty years, journalist Brad Altman. Takei continues to be an advocate for civil rights, gay rights and Asian-American issuesnote . In 2012, he starred in the musical Allegiance, which deals with World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. He has also protested the Race Lifting of Asian characters in Hollywood adaptations such as The Last Airbender and AKIRA.
He has a huge Facebook following. By March 2012, his page had nearly 1.4 million followers. The page surpassed 5 million followers late in 2013. By mid 2018 he'd doubled that to over 10 million followers. He has been a semi-cast member of The Howard Stern Show since the show's move to satellite in 2005, officially the show's announcer and sits in for week-long stints when he's in New York.
In 2015, Allegiance opened on Broadway with Takei in the dual role of the present day Sam Kimura and "Ojii-san" (Grandfather) in the flashback to the 1940s.
In 2020, Takei lent his voice to Masumi Arakawa in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the first game in Sega's venerated Yakuza series to have English voice acting since the 2006 original. In 2021, he appeared in the animated series Hit-Monkey as Shinji Yokohama. In 2023, he voiced the Mogwai Noggin on Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai
This actor’s roles provide examples of the following tropes:
- Actually Pretty Funny: Takei probably laughed the hardest, of anyone, at the gay jokes directed at him during "The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner".
- Adam Westing: And he'll more or less freely admit to it. Most obvious in his appearance as "himself" on Malcolm in the Middle.
- Aroused by Their Voice: Futurama's Star Trek episode invokes this when a sexy voice is required, and he interrupts Nichelle Nichols to speak.
- Becoming the Boast: His famous "shirtless fencer" scene from Star Trek was originally meant to be done with a Japanese sword. But Takei (in addition to wanting to avoid Asian stereotypes) was a big fan of old swashbuckling films of the Errol Flynn type, so he lied and told producers he was a skilled fencer, despite never having fenced in his life, to get to use a fencing sword instead. After it was agreed, he immediately took up fencing classes to pull off a good showing.
- Camp Gay: When he's Adam Westing. He will also not hesitate to discuss his love of musical theater, acknowledging it as being fitting with the stereotype.
- Catchphrase: "Ohhhhh my."
- Cool Old Guy: On an episode of Conan he appeared as part of an infomercial for a service to help people come out to their family. He ended his part saying "And if any of you mother*beep*ers gives him any *beep* I will come back here and *beep*! Your! *beep*! Up!
- Depraved Homosexual: Parodied in a fake PSA that Takei did in response to homophobic comments by NBA player Tim Hardaway, wherein Takei explains his love of "sweaty basketball players" and boasted that he would one day have sex with Hardaway whether he wanted to or not.
- Dirty Old Man: He plays it for laughs, of course.
- Follow the Leader: After hearing about Gilbert Gottfried's "audio book" of Fifty Shades of Grey, Takei decided to do one of his own — only to be surprised that the narrator is a woman, after having gotten very much into one of the sex scenes.
- Gay Euphemism: Invoked by Takei by lending his name as an Unusual Euphemism to teachers in Tennessee to get around the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill (which, since it was his own name he used as a substitute, certainly didn't hurt from a self-promotion standpoint).
- Lust Object: During a bit on Stern, fell completely in lust with skateboarder/Mixed Martial Artist/radio show host Jason Ellis when he ended up naked in the studio, to the point of not being able to talk at first, and then not being able to shut up about him."Ohhhhhhh... myyyyyyyyyyy..."
- Missing Episode: Takei's The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Encounter" was one of five episodes not syndicated until the early 90s.
- Mood Whiplash: Takei's Twitter account alternates between social activism and gleefully Dirty Old Man jokes. Which arguably makes it funnier to follow. Sometimes he hits both nails on the head:
- Nice Character, Mean Actor: Done for laughs in any show where he is Adam Westing. Fortunately, he's not like that in real life.
- Not What It Looks Like: Takei, upon hearing he would have a Shirtless Scene in the Star Trek episode "The Naked Time", immediately started working out."During the next few days, people walking past my dressing room may have wondered what sort of nefarious activity might be going on inside that was making the portable structure rock with such sensuous rhythm. Whatever wild imaginings they might have had, the truth was that I was pumping up the pectorals for my shirtless fencing scenes with a conscientious push-ups regimen."
- Patrick Stewart Speech: He often delivers these.
- Straight Gay: When not Adam Westing or playing his part on The Howard Stern Show.
- What Could Have Been: Before Leonard Nimoy was cast, he was supposed to appear as himself in The Simpsons episode "Marge vs. the Monorail", but he refused to be on anything that satirized public transportation, as he's an advocate of it.