Jack Lord, star of "Five-O"

Show 'brought Hawaii to the fore'

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Features Editor
(January 22, 1998)

Jack Lord, who brought Hawaii into the homes of millions with his portrayal of the tough-talking cop Steve McGarrett on the long-running crime drama "Hawaii Five-O," died late last night of congestive heart failure. He was 77.

Lord died at his Honolulu home with his wife, Marie, at his side.

"Jack loved acting, and he loved these islands," Marie Lord said in a statement. "Through all his years he was blessed with kindness, affection and support of many fans and friends. He always appreciated that and never forgot it."

Lord portrayed the head of a fictitious Hawaii state police force for 12 years on CBS, from 1968-1980.

"McGarrett was the personification of the good guy against the bad guy -- there was no gray area. It was almost camp, but it was [Lord's] ethic," said singer Jimmy Borges, a frequent "Five-0" guest star.

The show's distinctive opening credits -- da-da-da-da-DA-da, the swaying hips, the Ilikai Hotel mural and, last, Lord's rock jaw and ironic smile -- came to symbolize Hawaii around the world.

"It was the original TV show that brought Hawaii to the fore of people who wanted to visit," said Stanley Hong, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and former Hawaii Visitors Bureau president and CEO. "It was a marketing bonanza for us."

The series Lord produced and sometimes directed was seen in 80 countries, with a weekly audience estimated at more than 300 million. It's still seen daily on hundreds of stations in reruns.

Kam Fong, who played Chin Ho Kelly, one of McGarrett's detectives, said Lord was a "really hard taskmaster" and could be tough to get to know. But their professional relationship and friendship grew over the years.

"I really loved this man," said Fong, 78, who is retired and lives in Hawaii Kai.

"He was a force," said Zulu, also known as Gilbert Kauhi of the Big Island, who played another detective, the burly Kono, "He was a lot to Hawaii. When people talk about Hawaii they always talk about 'Hawaii Five-O' and Jack Lord. What he did for tourism, they could have made him president of HVB [Hawaii Visitors Bureau]."

On the set, Zulu said, "he very seldom relaxed. He was a professional all the way to the end."

A perfectionist

Harry Endo, who played forensic scientist Che Fong on the show, described Lord as a perfectionist and recalled a time when Lord lost his temper after Endo forgot his lines. Lord later said to him, "I want you to know I wasn't mad at you, I just want you to be good."

"He really lived that role," he said. "But off the set, he was a wonderful, soft-spoken guy."

Borges said Lord was generous in coaching him as a young performer who knew little about TV.

"He was known as a taskmaster on the set, but because he knew this was an avocation for me, he treated me differently," said Borges, addling that he literally owes a part of his income today to Lord, in the form of royalties from roles that his mentor helped him attain.

"He came to all my openings, my wedding. I really loved him," said Borges, in a choked voice. Borges last had dinner with his friend five or six years ago, before Lord became too ill to see people.

Lord, who lived in the Kahala neighborhood, had not been seen in public for years. Fong said it was widely known that Lord had Alzheimer's disease, but Marie Lord declined to answer questions about her husband's health.

"Hawaii Five-O" conventions in Burbank and Honolulu in 1996 drew hundreds of people, and most of the regular cast was on hand, but Lord was said to be too ill to attend. When CBS attempted a second-generation revival of the show last year, there were rumors that Lord might play some sort of elder statesman role, but his health prevented his participation, and the pilot show wasn't picked up. During "Five-O's" run, tourists delighted in every Lord sighting and strained to catch a glimpse of him in his white Cadillac limousine with the "Five-O" license plate.

By nearly every account of autograph seekers, he was friendly and kind.

His relationship with Hawaii was strained in the early years, however.

TV Guide published an unflattering story about him early in the run of the show and later cited him as an example of troublesome Hollywood stars. Lord countered that he wasn't interested in playing the media.

He told a reporter in 1983: "I can't kiss [ass]. I say what's on my mind."

"Jack has a lot of scars," Marie Lord said then. "A lot of scars."

Violence in the form of gunplay, beatings, robberies and explosions were a staple of "Five-0", as it was in most crime dramas of the era, and its early episodes didn't meet with aloha in Hawaii.

"When we first came here, we were attacked," Lord recalled in later years. "What was a crime show doing in this marvelous place where there was no crime?"

Hong, who was then with the HVCB, was one who was concerned, at first. "But people assured me, when I asked if their impression of Hawaii was crime as [the show] depicted, they said, 'No, no, no, we love the scenery,'" Hong recalled.

In the first season "Five-O" was on the air, 800,000 tourists came to the Islands each year. By the early 1980s, the figure had climbed to 4 million.

From artist to actor

Jack Lord was born John Joseph Patrick Ryan in Brooklyn, N.Y.

As a young boy, Lord learned to ride horses on his mother's family fruit farm in the Hudson River Valley. He later put the skill to good use when he starred in Stoney Burke, a 1962-63 ABC series about a modern-day rodeo cowboy.

After turning 15, Lord spent his high school summers working at sea and indulging in his first love -- art. He went on to major in art at New York University, which he attended on a football scholarship. His artworks made their way into a number of permanent collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Once Lord decided to become an actor, he studied nights for three years at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York while working days as a car salesman.

Lord appeared on Broadway in "The Traveling Lady" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," before going to Hollywood to appear with Gary Cooper in "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell."

Lord's film credits also include "Dr. No" in 1962, the first James Bond movie, in which he played CIA agent Felix Leiter.

Through the late 1950s and '60s, Lord made guest appearances on scores of TV series.

Lord requested that there be no funeral services. Donations may be made to The Jack and Marie Fund, which benefits local charities. Donations can be sent to

The Jack and Marie Lord Fund

c/o Hawaiian Community Foundation
900 Fort Street Mall
Honolulu, HI 96813

The Associated Press and Advertiser staff writers Jean Christensen, Lynda Arakawa and Andy Yamaguchi contributed to this report.