Danny Kaleikini — singer, musician, showroom entertainer, actor and recording artist known as the “Ambassador of Aloha” and for his personal credo, “Aloha ke kahi i ke kahi” (“Love is everywhere. Love is where you find it”) — died in his sleep this morning at St. Francis Hospice in Nuuanu. He was 85.
His death was confirmed by his business partner Linda Wong.
Born and raised on homestead land overlooking Honolulu and a graduate of Roosevelt High School, Kaleikini left the University of Hawaii at Manoa to pursue a career as a full-time entertainer and never looked back.
His 27-year engagement at the Hala Terrace, a room that had been designed as a coffee shop rather than a showroom, in what was then the Kahala Hilton, is the longest by any individual Hawaiian showroom star in a single venue.
Kaleikini was the first major showroom headliner to foresee the explosive growth of Japanese tourism. He became conversational in Japanese and learned basic greetings in many other languages.
Hawaii comedian Andy Bumatai famously observed that if “space aliens” landed at the Kahala Hilton, Kaleikini would greet them in their own language.
His legendary giving open-hearted spirit led then-Gov. John Waihee to officially designated him as Hawaii’s “Ambassador of Aloha” in 1988.
“I gave him the title because he deserved it,” Waihee recalled recently. If you remember back in the 1970s, there was a big effort to discover what ‘aloha’ meant and how it was a part of the state of Hawaii. … There were some very important components that were involved with it, but then in terms of everyday expression, Danny seemed to personify it.”
In addition to being a multi-talented entertainer, Kaleikini was an astute businessman who handled all aspects of managing, staging and producing his show at the Kahala Hilton.
In 1991, he became one of the first Hawaii showroom entertainers to offer a full-length video as a showroom souvenir when he released “Danny Kaleikini’s Hawaii” on VHS.
Kaleikini shared his concerns as a Native Hawaiian businessman in 1994 when he ran for lieutenant governor as Frank Fasi’s partner on the Best Party ticket. The unsuccessful campaign was his only foray into the political arena.
Kaleikini received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.
In 1998, Kaleikini opened the Aloha Ke Akua Chapel at Kahouna Fishpond in Kahaluu in partnership with Watabe Wedding Corp. of Japan.
His interests in recent years included maintaining the fishpond, and mentoring his grandson, musician and recording artist Nicholas Kaleikini.
News of Kaleikini’s death spread quickly and elicited fond remembrances from throughout the islands.
Singer Cathy Foy, a 1975 Miss Hawaii who first worked with Kaleikini at the Kahala Hilton in the 1980s, described him as “the consummate performer.”
“He just lit up a room, even when he was not feeling well,” she said.
U.S. Sen Brian Schatz said in a statement, “I join Hawaii in mourning the loss of a legend across the islands and beyond our shores. Danny was an extraordinarily talented, charismatic, joyful, and fearless performer who energized any stage he stepped on and warmed any heart he touched. He was the kind of person who made everyone who he interacted with feel special. He was a living embodiment of the aloha spirit, and we are all deeply sorrowful for this loss. I will miss his voice, his personal warmth, and his friendship. May he rest in peace and aloha.”
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said, “Danny was a very special friend to me starting in the early 1970s, when I was a young football coach at the University of Hawaii, but that is who Danny was to so many — a very special friend.
“He was loved and respected by everyone who knew him. To me, he was the embodiment of the very essence of everything that is so very special about Hawaii. He was truly a treasure, to Hawaii and to the world.”
In addition to his grandson, Kaleikini is survived by his wife, Jacqueline Wong Kaleikini, his daughter, Leonn Keikilani Kaleikini and his sister, Susan (Mel) Hamada. He was predeceased by his son, Danjacques Kaleikini, in 1992.
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