Tony Ruivivar — founder and leader of the Society Of Seven, the most successful show band in Waikiki entertainment history — died Friday at his home in Las Vegas. Ruivivar had battled cancer and heart and kidney problems in recent years. He was 79.
Ruivivar and the Society Of Seven — he often referred to it on stage as “the SOS group” — opened at the Outrigger Main Showroom in 1969 for what was originally a four-week engagement subbing for the headliner. Four weeks eventually became four decades — the longest run by an act in the same showroom in Waikiki.
The SOS group on opening night was Ruivivar, Don Gay; Terry Lucido; Roberto Nievera; Stan Robertson; Ruivivar’s brother, Danny Ruivivar; and Bert Sagum. Danny Ruivivar died in 1971, Lucido in 1982; Gay, Nievera and Robertson left to pursue other opportunities.
Ruivivar found similarly talented replacements for each. Four of the most memorable were the multitalented Gary Bautista and “Little Albert” Maligmat, master impressionist Jun Polistico and show-stopping instrumentalist Eddie Ramirez.
“The SOS was a wonderful, wonderful place for me,” Maligmat said recently. “Tony and I didn’t always get along (artistically) about how we were going to do the show, but business-wise we were always OK.”
The cavalcade of talent that passed through the SOS also included Randy Abellar, Tony Davich, Jun Estanislao, Roy Guerzo, Michael Layco, Vincent Mendoza, Mitch Morala, Billy Rivera, Alfredo Romero, Tony Anthony Lee Smith, Roy Venturina and Bob Wilson.
The core of the group in its final years was Ruivivar and Sagum plus Hoku Low, who joined in 1977, and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Wakai, who came on board in 1989.
Throughout the years, and despite all the personnel changes, Ruivivar excelled at creating shows that served up the Top 40 and pop hits of the day, celebrity impersonations, exaggerated female-impersonator shtick and imaginatively staged miniaturized versions of Broadway blockbusters.
In 2001 Ruivivar announced the creation of a second generation group, the Society Of Seven-Las Vegas that was going to take the SOS brand to Las Vegas. A year later he moved the original Society Of Seven to Las Vegas, and the Society Of Seven-Las Vegas inherited the showroom at the Outrigger.
The original SOS returned for a three-night 40th anniversary show in 2009.
The SOS received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 for the group’s achievements as recording artists in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Ruivivar’s son, Anthony Ruivivar, is a successful television and film actor who starred in “Third Watch” on NBC and numerous other TV shows and films.
Tony Ruivivar is additionally survived by his wife, Karen, daughter-in-law Yvonne Jung Ruivivar and three grandchildren.
Memorial services are pending.