Fans of the song “Tiny Bubbles” are in mourning today. According to news reports, award-winning singer Don Ho suffered a heart attack at his home in Hawaii Saturday and died shortly after at a Honolulu hospital. He was 76-years-old.
In previous blogs I chronicled Ho’s string of heart problems. In 2005 the singer traveled to Thailand to undergo an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart. Then just last fall he had a pacemaker installed and felt well enough to return to his home stage at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel where he had performed for the past 12 years.
In fact, according to his publicist, Ho just received a standing ovation at the hotel Thursday night in what no one knew would be his final show. Fittingly, Ho’s career ended in the same place it began nearly 45 years ago.
The legendary Hawaiian singer entered the Waikiki entertainment scene in the early 1960s after a stint in the military. Inspired by U.S. military planes flown during World War II, Ho joined the Air Force and piloted transport planes between Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu and Tokyo.
When he left the service, Ho followed his true passion—music. He spent the next several years singing at various spots in Hawaii and on the mainland. Then, in 1966, he released the song that would become his trademark tune—“Tiny Bubbles.” (Dedicated Ho fans also remember his other standout tunes, including “I’ll Remember You,” With All My Love,” and the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”)
In the years that followed Ho packed Las Vegas ballrooms playing for Hollywood’s elite, including Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. In the 1970s Ho became a TV star as host of “The Don Ho Show,” which aired on ABC from 1976-1977. (And, what self-respecting Don Ho fan can forget his 1972 cameo on “The Brady Bunch?”)
During his reign as Hawaii’s leading entertainer Ho traveled the world over promoting the aloha spirit through his music. But, regardless of where he traveled, Ho never forgot his roots. During the last decades of his life he traveled less, but continued to perform. The fans would come to him. For many, no trip to Hawaii was complete without seeing his Waikiki show.
I was born and raised in Hawaii and can honestly say that Ho was Hawaii’s icon. Yesterday, the “Aloha State” lost a beloved son and an island treasure… but so did the rest of the world.