Wednesday, January 31, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 31, 2001

What a wonderful world for 'Rainbow'

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Israel Kamakawiwoole’s medley of "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" continues to be a pot of gold for the late singer’s estate. Its popularity is described as an "epidemic" by a recording executive.

"There’s a cult out there that won’t let the song go away," said Leah Bernstein, president of the Mountain Apple Company, which distributes Bruddah Iz’s last recordings and handles the business for his estate.

"Rainbow" yesterday surfaced on the America Online welcome screen, drawing several hundred postings; it’s off already today.

It was the latest pop for the sweet ditty that seems to have more lives than the proverbial cat’s nine.

"Iz sensed he would get bigger after he passed on," said his widow, Marlene Kamakawiwoole. "I have to thank God that it’s coming true."

The catchy refrain, originally recorded on Iz’s "Facing Future" CD in 1993, also is getting a full-tilt boost in Sean Connery’s "Finding Forrester." The tune is heard in the waning moments of the film and heard in its entirety over the end credits.

It’s also been released — along with Miles Davis’ music, featured in the movie — on a Sony soundtrack CD. "Iz would be surprised to know he’s doing music with Miles Davis," said Bernstein.

He also would have been charmed by the Internet buzz of his song, since he became an enthusiastic e-mailer and Web browser prior to his death. Computers and chat rooms were his links from the hospital, where he suffered from complications of overweight, to the rest of the world.

He died at age 38 on June 26, 1997, of respiratory failure.

A Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winner who formerly performed with the Makaha Sons, Kamakawiwoole has captivated a growing segment of the entertainment industry with his catchy coupling of the "Wizard of Oz" signature tune and the Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong hit.

The song has always been a favorite on Island radio, said Bernstein, and had been earlier excerpted in a box-office flop starring Brad Pitt, "Meet Joe Black."

But when its opening sequence, featuring Iz’s angelic voice and distinctive ukulele strumming, was chosen for the catchy refrain in an eToys’ TV commercial, the Internet toy seller found that there was a lot of heart in the humming.

"People were inquiring, when logging on eToys, about how to get that song, so it’s now offered on that Web site," said Bernstein.

The tune was featured two weeks ago on ABC’s "Gideon’s Crossing" and landed on Fox’s "Party of Five" in 1998.

And celebrities are also picking up on Iz and his music. When the Brothers Cazimero performed at a Halloween benefit for Bette Midler in New York City, among the guests there was Sarah Jessica Parker, the star of HBO’s hit series "Sex and the City."

Seems Parker was vacationing on Maui last year and a record store clerk coaxed her into buying the "Facing Future" CD.

"Now she plays Iz’s CD in her dressing room," said Bernstein.

Among the notables who’ve also discovered Iz: Paul Simon and Jimmy Buffett.

Hollywood directors apparently are still curious about the gentle giant, who weighed over 700 pounds but had an innocence reflected in the medley and in other musical choices on his albums (the theme from "Gilligan’s Island" with customized lyrics). Iz recorded an earlier version of "Over the Rainbow" for Poki Records, but it was the Mountain Apple Co. rendition that captivated fans here and abroad.

At, there is an Iz page that’s soliciting favorite stories about the singer and remembrances of concert experiences.

And at Mountain Apple, inquiries about rights to use the tune continue to pour in.

Revenues from its use are funneled to the Kamakawiwoole family, which includes a daughter, Ceslieanne.

"It’s just wild how the song grows a little bit every day," said Bernstein.

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