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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 12:39 p.m., Wednesday, October 30, 2002

'Five-O' actor Kam Fong Chun dead at 84

By Mike Gordon
and Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writers

Kam Fong Chun, the Kalihi native known to millions of TV viewers as Detective Chin Ho Kelly on "Hawai'i Five-O," has died, his family announced today. He was 84.

Kam Fong Chun played detective Chin Ho Kelly on "Hawaii Five-O" from 1968 to 1978.

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Chun died Oct. 18 after a long battle with inoperable lung cancer, according to a written statement released today by his son, Dennis Chun. He was born in May 1918 in Honolulu.

Family members did not announce it earlier because they wanted some private time after having shared him with the public for so many years.

"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, had recently preceeded 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-O" Chun adopted the stage name Kam Fong. He appeared on the successful CBS show from 1968 to 1978, starring as the trusty colleague of "Five-O" lead Jack Lord, who played Steve McGarrett.

"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 statement read. "We think those words sum up our father's life."

His son Dennis said dealing with adversity made his father a compassionate person.

On June 8, 1944, Kam 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 in Kalihi, said Dennis Chun.

Chun, a Kalihi native who graduated from McKinley High, had been a real-life Honolulu police officer for 16 years.

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"Twelve people were killed and my father had to carry his daughter from the house," his son 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 he brother died.

"All the adversity in his life made him sensitive to people," he continued. "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.

Chun had been 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."

Before joining "Five-O" he was considered one of Honolulu's best-known character actors.

He decided to leave "Five-O" because the scripts had grown "static" and followed a predictable pattern, he said in a 1977 interview.

In a 1998 interview about Hollywood 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 on," he said.

"If they did 'Five-O' again, everybody would compare Jack Lord with the new guy. It's never the same. The original is always better than the remake."