Kam Fong, Detective Chin Ho Kelly on Hawaii Five-0 passed away on October 18, 2002, from lung cancer. He was 84. In real life, Fong served 18 years with the Honolulu Police Department, worked as a disc jockey and sold real estate before landing the role on the CS series, which ran from1968 until 1980. Fong's character was a mainstay until the final episode of the 1977-1978 season.
"In his last show when the character Chin Ho Kelly was killed while on an undercover mission, he looked at death and declared, 'It was a life that was worth it. It was a life that mattered,'" read a statement released by his family after Fong's passing. "We think those words sum up our father's life."
Kam Fong Chun is survived by two sons, Dennis and Dickson and two daughters, Brenda and Valerie.
Posted on: Thursday, October 31, 2002
'Hawaii Five-0' actor Kam Fong Chun dead at 84
Gordon and Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writers
Kam Fong Chun, known to millions of TV viewers as the stalwart Detective Chin Ho Kelly on "Hawai'i Five-0," has died, his family announced yesterday. He was 84.
Fong Chun played detective Chin Ho Kelly on "Hawaii Five-O"
from 1968 to 1978.
Advertiser library photo
He was born in May 1918 in Kalihi and lived for many years in Hawai'i Kai.
Family members did not announce his passing earlier because they wanted some private time after having shared him with the public for so many years. He was buried at Diamond Head Memorial Park, across the street from the old "Five-0" sound stage.
"Like his character, our father faced his last battle with courage, determination and a deep faith in God," the statement read.
Chun was surrounded by family members when he died. His wife of 54 years, Gladys, recently preceded him in death, the statement said.
"There is no need to feel sorry either for us or our dad," the statement read. "He had a good and long life."
The statement said Chun could never understand how "a poor barefoot boy from Kalihi" could wind up on a Hollywood sound stage.
When he appeared on "Five-0," Chun adopted the stage name Kam Fong. He appeared on the successful CBS crime drama from its premiere in 1968 until 1978 as a stocky, streetwise detective who was part of the elite state police unit run by Steve McGarrett, played by Jack Lord.
"In his last show, when the character Chin Ho Kelly was killed while on an undercover mission, he looked at death and declared that 'It was all worth it,' " the family statement said. "We think those words sum up our father's life. It was a life that was worth it. It was a life that mattered."
Chun was one of the last surviving members of the regular "Five-0" cast. Lord died in 1998.
a Kalihi native who graduated from McKinley High, had been a real-life
Honolulu police officer for 16 years.
Advertiser library photo • July 11, 1996
"His voice sounded good; I told him so and he told me 'I may sound great, but I don't think I have much time,'" MacArthur said from his home in Palm Springs, Calif. "He confessed to me that the voice was the only thing working well."
MacArthur said he believed he was the closest cast member to Chun and that they always tried to get together when he was in Hawai'i.
"I remember him as a gentleman of great dignity; Kam and I had a bond, maybe because he was a little older, maybe because he took to my young son and told him 'I'm your Chinese grandfather,'" MacArthur said. "He was a man of great respect, of great class. He said he wanted to go quietly, which is pretty much the way he was in life. A man with great sensitivity."
Before finding success as a character actor in the 1960s, Chun struggled through years of adversity and was confronted by overwhelming personal tragedies.
On June 8, 1944, Chun's first wife, Esther, and his two young children, 4-year-old Marilyn, and 2-year-old son, Donald, were killed when two B-24 bombers collided and crashed over Kalihi. The flaming debris rained down on the neighborhood and killed 12 people.
"My father had to carry his daughter from the house," Dennis Chun said. "As a young child, he also saw his older brother burn to death in front of him. They were painting the house and someone lit a match. My father had to take care of his mother, and four brothers and sisters after his brother died."
Years later, Kam Fong Chun said he was so despondent after the deaths of his wife and family that he began drinking heavily and that at one point he put a gun to his head and tried to kill himself. He said his mother walked in and begged him not to do it. He was so ashamed he never tried again.
"All the adversity in his life made him sensitive to people," Dennis Chun said. "He displayed tremendous confidence throughout his life. Even with the cancer, he fought it head-on."
A 1938 graduate of McKinley High, Chun was a member of the Tigers' 1937 football team and president of the school's drama club.
"He loved performing, even at a young age," Dennis Chun said.
In the 1950s, Chun served as a real-life police officer, working for 16 years with the Honolulu Police Department.
After he quit in 1959, he ran a real estate business and a talent agency and appeared in local theater and Hollywood movies, including "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" and "Diamond Head" with Charlton Heston.
Before joining "Five-0," Chun was considered one of Honolulu's best-known character actors.
Chun said he decided to leave "Five-0" because the scripts had grown "static" and followed a predictable pattern. He went on to make several guest appearances on "Magnum, P.I." in the 1980s.
In a 1998 interview about remakes of old TV shows, Chun said there was nothing like the original.
"When you have a show that runs successfully and you try to duplicate it, people who watched the earlier version can't help but associate the current cast with the former one," he said. "If they did 'Five-0' again, everybody would compare Jack Lord with the new guy. It's never the same. The original is always better than the remake."
In addition to his son Dennis, Chun is survived by son Dickson Chun, daughters Brenda Chun and Valerie Chun, all of Honolulu; granddaughter Ashley Weiss, of Honolulu; great-granddaughter Kelli Driskil, of Honolulu; his mother, 105-year-old Mary Powers of Honolulu; a brother, Herbert Chun; sisters Vivian Wong and Helen Ching.
Advertiser staff writer Wayne Harada contributed to this report.