Hiroaki Aoki

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Hiroaki Aoki
Born (1938-10-09)October 9, 1938
Tokyo, Japan
Died July 10, 2008(2008-07-10) (aged 69)
New York, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Other names Rocky Aoki
Ethnicity Japanese
Citizenship United States, at time of death
Alma mater
  • Chizuru Kobayashi Aoki (m. 1964; div. 1981)
  • Pamela Hilberger Aoki (m. 1981; div. 1991)
  • Keiko Ono Aoki (m. 2002; wid. 2008)
Children Seven, including model Devon Aoki and DJ/producer Steve Aoki

Hiroaki Aoki (青木 廣彰 Aoki Hiroaki?, October 9, 1938 – July 10, 2008), known in the United States by the Anglicized name Rocky Aoki, was a Japanese-born American wrestler and restaurateur.


Early life

Born in Tokyo, Aoki and some friends started a rock and roll band called Rowdy Sounds, though Aoki eventually abandoned music for athletics. He would later explain, "I play bass. But I tell you why I change to wrestling: No good on tempo."[1] Aoki attended Keio University, where he competed in track and field, karate, and wrestling before being expelled for fighting. He qualified for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but did not compete. However, he later toured the United States and was undefeated in the wrestling 112-pound flyweight class.

Aoki was offered wrestling scholarships from several different American colleges. He attended Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts and later transferred to CW Post College on Long Island.[2]

Move to the United States

He moved to New York City, going on to win the United States flyweight title in 1962, 1963 and 1964. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1995.[3]

Restaurant business

In New York, Aoki worked seven days a week in an ice cream truck that he rented in Harlem while studying restaurant management at New York City Community College. After he received his associate degree in management in 1963,[2] he used the $10,000 he had saved from the ice cream business to convince his father to co-invest in the first Benihana, a four-table teppanyaki restaurant on West 56th Street. "Benihana", taken from the Japanese name for safflower, was suggested by Aoki's father. According to family legend, Aoki's father was walking through the bombed-out ruins of post-war Tokyo when he happened across a single red safflower growing in the rubble.[3]

He was an offshore powerboat racer along with the 1986 APBA world champion Powerboat throttleman Errol Lanier, a former Fort Lauderdale fireman who saved his life in a near fatal powerboat crash in 1979 under the Golden Gate Bridge. After injuries suffered in a 1982 accident, the Tenafly, New Jersey resident told sportswriters that he was leaving the sport.[4]

Family life

Rocky once said that he had "three kids from three different women at exactly the same time."[1] He found out about the seventh with the third woman when he was sued for paternity. In 2005, Rocky sued four of his children (Grace, Kevin, Kyle, and Echo) for an alleged attempt to take control of the companies he founded, which, at the time, had an estimated value between USD $60–100 million.

Before his death, he had become a United States citizen. Aoki was the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. He died of pneumonia in New York. At the time of his death he had been suffering from diabetes, Hepatitis C, and cirrhosis of the liver.[3] His Hepatitis C was reportedly the result of a blood transfusion after a 1979 speedboat crash under the Golden Gate Bridge.[1]

At the time of his death, Rocky Aoki was survived by his seven children, his wife and four grandchildren.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Rocky's Family Horror Show". New York. 25 October 2007. ISSN 0028-7369.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Rocky Aoki Biography". Rocky H Aoki. Retrieved 21 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Schudel, Matt (12 July 2008). "Rocky Aoki; Flashy Founder of Benihana". The Washington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Aoki Will Leave Powerboat Racing". The New York Times. Associated Press. February 7, 1983.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Survivors

External links