Entertainer Ray Bumatai, 52, succumbs to brain cancer
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
Ray Bumatai, a local actor, comedian and musician, died yesterday following a three-year battle with brain cancer. He was 52.
Bumatai died at Straub Hospital, surrounded by his family. The older brother of comedian Andy Bumatai, Ray Bumatai was a hardworking actor who over a two-decade-plus career landed numerous character roles in Hawai'i and Hollywood film, television and theater projects. His television credits included roles on "Magnum P.I.," "Baywatch," "Jake & The Fatman" and "Hawaii."
"His daughter was there. Andy was holding one of his hands. And I was in the bed right next to him holding his other hand," said his wife, Karen "Bree" Bumatai.
Raimund Bumatai was born on Dec. 20, 1952, in Offenbach, Germany. After graduating from Wai'anae High School, Bumatai moved to the Mainland, angling for a career as a musician.
He spent some time with a San Francisco band called Clover, led by Huey Lewis, who would later lead Huey Lewis and the News. Bumatai also toured with blues rocker Elvin Bishop and jazz guitarist Earl Klugh.
Returning home in the 1980s, Bumatai began carving out a career in comedy and acting, not unlike his younger sibling Andy.
Well-received stand-up gigs in local comedy clubs led to a spot in a short-lived revival of the comedy troupe Booga Booga in 1988. Around the same time, Bumatai began landing supporting roles in Hawai'i-based television series such as "Magnum" and "Jake." In recent years, he advocated for the local film industry.
His career also included voicework in Walt Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" and the popular Nickelodeon cartoon "Rocket Power."
Kids recognized him on the street as the Chicken Ranger, thanks to his humorous local TV commercials for KFC.
Bumatai was also a perennial favorite in local theater, working with organizations including Starving Artists Theatre Company and Honolulu Theatre For Youth. In 1990, Bumatai wrote the play "Willie's Remarkable Recycling Flight" for HTY.
Among his most notable recent on-stage roles was a solid, well-received turn as the king in Army Community Theatre's sold-out run of "The King & I" in November, and a comic lead in Diamond Head Theatre's 2002 production of playwright Lee Cataluna's "You Somebody."
"The thing about Ray is his mind was always going. You had to be on your toes when you worked with him," said actor-musician Loretta Ables Sayre, a longtime friend and colleague. "He always had projects and plans and ideas for movies and theatrical productions and music and television programs."
"He was always driven," said Bree Bumatai, a theater producer and director. "He always wanted to be working — working on some project or creating. He could barely sit still if he wasn't creating something."
Ray Bumatai was diagnosed with advanced-stage glioblastoma — a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer — in 2002, while in rehearsal for "You Somebody." Surgery at the time to remove a brain tumor temporarily beat back the cancer, and Bumatai took the stage for the play's final three performances.
"We had three years of great stuff," Bree Bumatai said of her husband's final years. "We traveled. We swam with the dolphins. He made a couple of films, which will be in the upcoming Hawaii International Film Festival. He did a CD of original music ("All The Things I Said"). ... We did a play together ("Over The Tavern") at Manoa Valley Theatre, which was a really wonderful and rewarding experience for me to be on stage with my husband again after so many years."
The play, which enjoyed a solid run in January, would mark Ray Bumatai's final turn on stage. In June, he found out that the cancer had returned, this time in a far more aggressive form.
"I know that he thought, 'I'm gonna beat this again. I can do it. I did it once.' He really, really fought hard," Bree Bumatai said.
She said her husband "never stopped joking. He never stopped making the nurses, the people who cared for him and the people that visited him laugh. ... (His final days) were courageous, and filled with laughter."
In addition to his wife, Bumatai is survived by his daughter Cecilly Ann Bumatai, parents Elsie and Bobby, and siblings Andy, Ramona, Ben, Gabe and Heidi.
A service is being planned.
Reach Derek Paiva at email@example.com.