Thousands of fans of different generations gathered on a beach at Waikiki to honor Hawaiian crooner Don Ho, some clad in bikinis and others in electric wheelchairs.
At a sunset memorial on the beach Saturday, they brought flowers and reminisced about the late entertainer’s earlier years.
“I remember my mom would swoon every time she heard him sing. My dad would get so mad,” said Rick Williams, of Visalia, Calif., who was wearing a T-shirt with Ho’s unforgettable smile. “Hawaii was two things back then: Don Ho and Pearl Harbor.”
Officials expected as many as 25,000 people to attend, making it one of the largest crowds ever in Waikiki, according to city officials. The city arranged extra buses, parking and traffic control.
Ho, known for his catchy signature tune “Tiny Bubbles,” died April 14 of heart failure at age 76.
At an earlier private ceremony on the grounds of the Sheraton Waikiki, guests included politicians, musicians and family members, all of whom where dressed in white, except for Ho’s wife, Haumea, who wore a floral orange dress and a maile lei.
Some of his 10 children sang songs during the tearful ceremony. An Air Force honor guard presented a 21-gun salute and handed a U.S. flag to Ho’s family. Ho had been a retired Air Force pilot.
Pastor Tom Ainucci called Ho an “ambassador of the aloha spirit,” who welcomed everyone and made the world a better place.
After the ceremony, Ho’s ashes were taken by a double-hulled canoe about a quarter mile off Waikiki and scattered. The canoe was accompanied by dozens of surfers and a flotilla of other canoes.
Following the private ceremony, several island entertainers were to perform, with one of Ho’s songs, “I’ll Remember You,” sung by his 25-year-old daughter, Hoku.
Fans converged on every open spot of sand in Waikiki. Waves gently rolled in as Ho’s playful music could be heard coming from several outdoor bars.
Connie Algoflah flew in Thursday from Buckeye, Ariz., just to attend the memorial. She arrived at the balmy beach seven hours before the 5 p.m. tribute, to stake out a front-sand seat.
Algoflah, 43, said she had a huge crush on Ho and used to skip school as a teenager in Oklahoma to watch “The Don Ho Show.”
“We were extremely poor in this little run-down apartment. He was my escape into something beautiful,” she said.
Hawaii's favorite son
Waikiki was special to Ho, the face and voice of Hawaii to the world for decades.
“Waikiki to me is like a magnet for the world,” he said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. “Waikiki is a beacon. It’s like a shining light.”
Ho had a breakout year in 1966, when appearances at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood helped him build a mainland following, and the release of “Tiny Bubbles” gave him his greatest recording success.
Soon he was packing places such as the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Stars including Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra took in his shows.
Ho also became a TV star, hosting the “The Don Ho Show” on ABC during 1976-77.
Besides “Tiny Bubbles,” his other well-known songs include “With All My Love,” and the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”
Ho had suffered from heart problems for the past several years, and a pacemaker was implanted last fall. In 2005, he underwent an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart in Thailand.
In one of his first interviews after the procedure, Ho told The AP that he couldn’t wait to get back on stage. And he did, returning on a limited schedule less than two months later.
“A lot of people out there come every year to get their ‘Tiny Bubbles’ fix,” he said then. “So as long as they keep coming, I might as well keep doing it.”