Sonny Chiba, Japanese 'Kill Bill' Actor and Martial Arts Legend, Dead at 82

Actor and martial arts legend Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba has died at the age of 82.

According to Oricon News, the screen star had been battling COVID-19, which led to him being admitted into a hospital in Kimitsu, in Japan's Chiba Prefecture.

Per the outlet, Chiba also developed pneumonia as he battled the virus, and ultimately didn't recover, passing away on Thursday.

The beloved star, born Sadaho Maeda in Fukuoka, Japan, became one of the first actors to rise to international fame for appearing in martial arts movies.

He became endeared to global audiences for his broad range of films, which also included a role in Quentin Tarantino's 2003 revenge epic Kill Bill.

In the film—which starred Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, and Daryl Hannah, among others—Chiba took on the role of swordsmith Hattori Hanzo.

A sushi restaurant owner, Hanzo also happened to be a formidable sword fighter, which was a nod to the character he played in the 1990s Japanese TV series Shadow Warriors.

A true action legend. Your films are eternal and your energy an inspiration. #SonnyChiba #RIP

— Lewis Tan (@TheLewisTan) August 19, 2021

Chiba enjoyed a prolific career, which was kickstarted when he was discovered in a talent search, subsequently joining Toei Studios in 1959 and taking on his stage name.

While he was a star of the screen, Chiba was a martial artist first, learning the craft while attending the Nippon Sports Science University in 1957. He earned a first-degree black belt in 1965.

After making a name for himself in television on the 1960s spy thriller Key Hunter, Chiba's martial arts skills earned him a sizable following.

Hard to believe that anyone as cold as Sonny Chiba could die. Rest in peace to a man who brought the onscreen violence.

— Tom Breihan (@tombreihan) August 19, 2021

He became a household name thanks to his roles in the 1973 movie Battles Without Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima and 1974's The Street Fighter, which also went on to be released internationally.

In the earlier stages of his career, the action star established the Japan Action Club in 1970, opened specifically to train those aspiring to be martial arts actors.

In his personal life, Chiba married actress Yoko Nogiwa in 1972, with the couple divorcing in 1994. He then exchanged nuptials with Tamami Chiba in 1996, with their union ending in divorce in 2015, according to The Japan Times.

RIP, Sonny Chiba.

The sun goes down.


Per Oricon News, he leaves behind three children, who are all actors—daughter Juri Manase and sons Mackenyu Nitta and Atsushi Maeda.

As news of Chiba's death circulated, a host of well-wishers took to Twitter to share their tributes, including actor Lewis Tan, who wrote: "A true action legend. Your films are eternal and your energy an inspiration."

"RIP, Sonny Chiba," tweeted Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima alongside a picture of a Sony Walkman. "The sun goes down."

Stereogum senior editor Tom Breihan said: "Hard to believe that anyone as cold as Sonny Chiba could die. Rest in peace to a man who brought the onscreen violence."

Sonny Chiba
Sonny Chiba arrives at the World Premiere of "Take A Chance" at ArcLight Hollywood on October 10, 2018 in Hollywood, California. The actor passed away at the age of 82, it has been reported. Gregg DeGuire/WireImage