Stuntman, actor, and fight coordinator Kim Kahana Sr. studied martial arts in Japan where he earned six Black Belts in karate, aikido and jujutsu. In addition to teaching stunts, he is a martial arts and hand-to-hand combat instructor and weapons expert. Kahana has also run a bodyguard agency, employing as many as 30 people at once.
Kim Kahana Sr. was born in 1929. He was unable to read or write and dropped out of school in third grade. At age 13 he hitchhiked across the United States by himself, sometimes stealing in order to eat. He began his performing career as a knife and fire dancer in a stage show called Samoan Warriors.
Kim Kahana Sr. served as a paratrooper in the Korean War where he was captured and shot by an enemy firing squad. The bullet hit a penny saving his life and he was forced to feigning death, and he was left by his captors in a mass grave from which he finally escaped. A hand grenade explosion also rendered him sightless for two years and permanently blind in his left eye. Kim Kahana Sr. was awarded a Silver Star, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts by the U.S. military for his services.
Kim Kahana Sr. survived a plane crash in Texas in 1955. The other 32 passenger on board were killed. Kim Kahana Sr.’s ability to survive both the plane crash and his experiences in Korea helped Kahana to live by his philosophy of, “Maybe I’m right where I ought to be.”
Kim Kahana Sr. entered film industry after the Korean War. He began working as an extra, playing a motorcycle rider in The Wild One (1953). When he discovered that stunt performers were paid more than extras, he pursued a stunt career, training with Yakima Canutt and John Eppers. By the 1960s and throughout the 1970s and 80s, he worked steadily as a stuntman for many films including Cool Hand Luke (1967), Planet of the Apes (1968), Che! (1969), Patton (1970), The Omega Man (1971), Joe Kidd (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Burt Reynolds’ Smokey and the Bandit franchise, and the disaster films of Irwin Allen.
Kim Kahana Sr. has worked as the stunt double for Charles Bronson in Bronson’s films for over 20 years.
Kim Kahana Sr. also performed and coordinated fight scenes and stunts, often uncredited, for numerous TV shows, including 28 episodes of Kung Fu, and made numerous appearances on other programs, including Mission Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man, Vega$, Magnum P.I., Charlie’s Angels, Quincy. Fantasy Island and The Brady Bunch. Because he was only 5′ 7″, Kahana was able to stunt double for female actors, including Stephanie Powers of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and Sally Field on The Flying Nun.
Kim Kahana Sr. played a leading role in the Hanna Barbera children’s adventure serial Danger Island (1968), a live-action serialized adventure story that appeared as part of the Banana Splits Adventure Hour. His character, Chongo, was a mute castaway from a shipwrecked merchant marine vessel who communicated only using hand signs and bird calls. As the comedic sidekick to fellow castaway Elihu Morgan (played by Rockne Tarkington), Chongo’s antics prompted his friend to call out, “Uh-oh Chongo!”. The catchphrase became popular with children during the following decade, and inevitably followed Kahana in his work and personal life. Because Danger Island aired weekly and Kahana worked both as an actor and as a stunt performer, he was one of the highest paid stunt people in the industry.
Kim Kahana Sr. broke bones more than 60 times during his first three decades of work as a stunt performer. Kahana had moved away from doing “life-threatening” stunts by the 1980’s, but he continued to coordinate action scenes and perform his own stunt work.
Kim Kahana Sr. served as a member of the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures and spent eight years on the Screen Actors Guild’s Safety Investigative Team and the Stunt Safety Committee. He started a production company called Stunt Action & Safety Coordinator, Inc. that runs second unit production for major motion pictures. In 1972 he opened the Kahana Stunt School train performers in stunt work and safety, as well as in how to navigate the motion picture and TV industries.
Kim Kahana Sr. had three sons, Tony Kahana, Rick Kahana, and Kim Kahan Jr., and one daughter, Debbie Kahana, all of whom teach at Kahana’s stunt school, hold Black Belts in karate, and all of whom have performed in numerous blockbuster films.
On July 24, 2012, Kim Kahana lost his son Rick Kalua Kahana, who died at his home in Canoga Park, California. Below is a memorial video made for Rick Kahana.