Mako Iwamatsu (Japanese: 岩松 信 or いわまつ まこと) was an Oscar-and Tony-nominated Japanese-born American actor. Many of his acting roles credited him simply as Mako, omitting his surname. He is known for his acting role as Akiro the Wizard in Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer and his voice roles as Aku in Samurai Jack and Iroh in thirty episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Mako was born in Kobe, Japan, the son of noted children's book author and illustrator Taro Yashima. His parents moved to the United States when he was a small child. He joined them there in 1949 and began studying architecture. He joined the military in the 1950s and became a naturalized American citizen in 1956. During his military service, he discovered his theatrical talent and trained at the Pasadena Community Playhouse while on leave.
Mako was married to actress Shizuko Hoshi and had two daughters with her, both of whom are actresses. He had three grandchildren.
Mako's first cinema role was in the 1959 film Never So Few. In 1965, frustrated by the limited roles available to himself and other Asian-American actors, Mako and six others, including James Hong, formed the East West Players theater company, first performing out of a church basement. The company is one of the earliest Asian-American theater organizations and not only provided a venue for Asian-American actors to train and perform, but nurtured many Asian-American playwrights. Mako remained artistic director of the company until 1989.
He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles and for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for the 1976 musical Pacific Overtures. In 2005, he had a cameo role in Memoirs of a Geisha. His last leading role was in the 2005 film Cages, written and directed by Graham Streeter.
Mako was among the actors, producers, and directors interviewed in the 2006 documentary The Slanted Screen, directed by Jeff Adachi, about the representation of Asian and Asian-American men in Hollywood.
Mako died after a brief period of suffering from esophageal cancer. One day prior to his death, Mako had been confirmed to star in the film TMNT as the voice of Splinter. The film's director Kevin Munroe confirmed that Mako had completed his recording before his death. The finished film was dedicated to Mako.
During the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Tales of Ba Sing Se", the segment titled "The Tale of Iroh" features a dedication to Mako as he was the voice actor for Iroh for Books One and Two. He was also featured in the Memoriam Montage in the 79th Academy Awards.