Family and friends are mourning the death of legendary Hawaii comedian Mel Cabang, who died suddenly Saturday in Las Vegas after undergoing open heart surgery.
Cabang, 77, died in the hospital, days after successfully completing the surgery, his family said in a phone interview from Las Vegas.
“He’s a very good man and he loved me so much,” his wife of nine years, Luz Cabang, said. “He always says that I’m his angel, but now he is my angel.”
She had been at the hospital for two days with Cabang, who was awake. She left the hospital to go home for a shower when Cabang died. Hospital staff performed CPR on him for 40 minutes but could not revive him.
Cabang began his stand-up career in the early 1970s as a singer and guitarist at the Ranch House, a restaurant in Aina Haina. He sang so much his throat would grow sore, and he would tell stories and jokes in between songs as a break, his wife said. He began doing stand-up after someone suggested it because of his jokes at the restaurant.
He established himself as a popular comedian at his next gig at the Golden Coin, across the street from the old news building on Kapiolani Boulevard, his sister, Lorna Silkwood of Maui, said. He became popular for his “blue jokes,” or raunchy style of humor, often using wooden phallic props made by a friend in his routines or calling out to people when they got up to use the restroom during a show.
A commentator in an online forum recalled getting caught in Cabang’s flashlight while going to the restroom in one of those shows. “Eh, Japanee, whea you going?” he recalled Cabang saying. “We go compare.”
Silkwood said people would line up around the building to see Cabang at the Golden Coin, standing in line from the first show to catch his second show of the night.
In recent years Cabang performed with local comedians Augie Tulba, Frank De Lima and Andy Bumatai as part of Na Alii of Comedy, formed by Augie T.
“Mel was not politically correct at all,” Tulba said. “He was worse than Don Rickles.”
But Cabang, who was the oldest of the comedians in the group, also encouraged Tulba when he was an emerging comedian.
“He was such a gentle spirit,” Tulba said. “Smart dude.”
Cabang was born Feb. 17, 1942, in Honokaa on Hawaii island, the youngest of three siblings. His mother, Olivia Clara Medeiros, was a local Portuguese woman with a dress shop, and his father, Alexander Manzano Cabang, had come from the Philippines on a boat at the age of 12. In a clip from a show on the mainland, Cabang said he was half haole and Filipino, which they call Haolepino.
Cabang’s mother died in a car crash while visiting the mainland when Cabang was 6.
His older sister Lorna helped raise him while his father worked a variety of mechanical jobs. The family moved to Gulick Avenue in Kalihi and eventually to a family property in the area that became Hawaii Kai, but they grew up poor and raised poultry for food.
“He was a good kid, never caused any trouble,” Lorna said. “I don’t know how he became a comedian.”
After high school Cabang went to college in Pasadena, Calif., where he supported himself through college by playing music. Later he returned to Hawaii where he lived with his sister in Niu Valley. Every night, he would practice the guitar, and eventually got a job at the Ranch House nearby.
Cabang’s wife said he was a loving and generous husband. She said they met at her niece’s wedding when she approached him because he was sitting at a table alone.
They had a conversation, and when she told a cousin that she had given Cabang her number, her cousin warned her, “He is a bad man,” referring to the three years he spent in a Nevada prison for illegal gambling. She said she wanted to make sure he was a bad man and went out with Cabang, only to find out he was a “really good man.”
He is survived by three adult sons from another relationship, and three grandchildren. The family is planning a service in Hawaii in the next few weeks and to spread his ashes in the ocean at Sandy Beach Park.