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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 7, 2004

Zulu, 'Hawaii Five-0' regular, dead at 66

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Zulu, a former Waikiki beachboy who played the burly detective Kono in the 1960s police drama "Hawaii Five-0," has died. He was 66.

Born Gilbert Francis Lani Damian Kauhi on Oct. 17, 1937, on the Big Island, he was better known by the nickname classmates gave him in high school — "Zulu" — but for TV audiences worldwide, he will always be Detective Kono Kalakaua.

Zulu died Monday in Hilo Medical Center of complications from diabetes, family members said.

The news stunned former co-star James MacArthur, who played Danny "Danno" Williams on the show.

MacArthur, who was on a train from Washington to New York yesterday when informed of Zulu's death, burst into tears.

"Oh dear, oh my gosh," he said. "I didn't know. ... Several weeks ago, he called me. Oh dear. He made it on the list for a kidney transplant."

MacArthur was so shaken, he couldn't compose himself.

"I have many happy memories of Zulu," he said. "On 'Five-O,' he helped us understand how to say those Hawaiian words. I'll miss him."

Zulu, who lived in Hawaiian Paradise Park, was in poor health for a few years. He had kidney problems, suffered several strokes and at least two heart attacks, said his brother, Allen Kauhi.

Kauhi said Zulu received a kidney transplant about 18 months ago at St. Francis Medical Center, but his body rejected the organ and it had to be removed. Zulu was hoping for another transplant, but seemed to be in the hospital a lot.

"He was fighting the thing," Allen Kauhi said. "I'm surprised he lived this long."

Zulu was a popular Waikiki beachboy in 1968 when he joined the CBS drama for its first season. He was cast as a burly Hawaiian detective who worked for the show's star, Jack Lord.

"I know those were his enjoyable days," said his 82-year-old mother, Emma Kauhi. "He was always full of excitement and he had many friends. "

The show helped launch a successful nightclub career for Zulu, who sang and joked to packed houses in and around Waikiki.

In early 1971, Zulu signed a five-year, $2.5 million contract to appear in the C'est Si Bon Showroom in the Pagoda Hotel & Restaurant.

But in December that year, he was out with "Hawaii Five-0." Zulu was fired after an altercation with the show's publicist in which he acknowledged making loud racist comments. "I need something different," he said in a newspaper interview at the time. "I've had it with the 'yes boss, no boss' routine."

Zulu wound up as a headliner for several years at Duke Kahanamoku's in the International Marketplace. But he left there in 1972 amid harsh words about the quality of the musicians provided.

After that, he performed at Neighbor Island hotels and did benefits and even changed the spelling of his nickname, briefly, to Zoulou. He said it was the French Tahitian spelling.

A few years later, he had gone from entertainer to promotions manager for an automotive operation.

In 1986, Zulu was convicted of second-degree negligent homicide for a Big Island traffic accident that killed a bicyclist training for the Ironman Triathlon. Ronny Lee Fennell of Kona was hit from behind by Zulu, who was fined $500 and sentenced to a year's probation.

Funeral arrangements have not been set for Zulu, his mother said. "He had always stressed to me that he wanted to be buried in Waikiki," Emma Kauhi said. "He wanted a beachboy funeral but he never made any arrangements at all. So we are scrambling now on who to contact and how to go about it."

Advertiser Staff Writer Wayne Harada contributed to this report. Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.