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Jack Lord's burly sidekick in 'Hawaii Five-O'

Gilbert Francis Lani Damian Kauhi (Zulu), actor and singer: born Hilo, Hawaii 17 October 1937; married (one daughter); died Hilo 3 May 2004.

The Hawaiian actor Zulu found worldwide recognition as the burly Detective Kono Kalakaua in the American police series Hawaii Five-O. He was one of many natives of the tropical isles to get work on the programme - but the only actor to land a leading part, as one of Detective Steve McGarrett's crack team of crimebusters.

The role of Kono was, in truth, rarely more than a supporting one and most of the action centred on McGarrett (Jack Lord) and Detective Danny Williams (James MacArthur). "Book 'em, Danno!" McGarrett would shout as an episode reached its conclusion. Zulu was on a par with Kam Fong, who acted another detective, Chin Ho Kelley - and he sometimes annoyed the star, Jack Lord, by falling asleep between scenes.

But Zulu had one moment of great drama in the series, when Kono kept surveillance on a money handover during a kidnap and, having helped the captured boy to escape, was then kidnapped himself. In the ensuing fight, Kono managed to deliver an impressive headbutt, but was badly beaten up.

Photographs of his injuries upset and incensed the usually unemotional McGarrett, who saved Kono in the nick of time. "How do you feel, you big Kanaka?" McGarrett asked him. Barely able to speak, Kono replied: "Starved." In this scene, Zulu himself was seen in a coffin-like box that was perilously close to falling in water.

Born Gilbert Kauhi in Hilo, Hawaii, in 1937 he moved with his family to Honolulu when his father became a taxi driver there, after losing a job as a fireman. The boy was nicknamed Zulu while at school in Honolulu because classmates thought his hair looked African.

On leaving school, Kauhi joined the US Coastguard at Waikiki. A keen singer, guitarist and ukulele player, he had by then formed Zulu and the Polynesians and he later performed on cruise ships and in Japan with his Polynesian Revue. He appeared in films made in Hawaii such as Hawaiian Eye (1959), Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Diamond Head (1962) and Hawaii (1966), and was a disc jockey for the radio station KHVH.

When Kauhi's big break came in Hawaii Five-O (1968-72), he adopted Zulu as his professional name. The drama became America's longest-running continuous police series, with murders and car chases set against the idyllic backdrop of palm trees, sun and sea. It featured Lord as Steve McGarrett, head of a squad working out of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu as part of the Hawaiian State Police, accountable directly to the governor. Rank-and-file police were played by off-duty Honolulu officers, who donated the money they earned to charity.

Lord, a former film star, held tight control over the series as one of its producers, insisting that his co-stars were referred to on screen only as "featured players". The other star of the programme was Zulu's native Hawaii, which experienced a boom in visitors, despite the rollcall of murderers, drug smugglers and Triads seen on screen.

Although the programme ran until 1980, Zulu was sacked in 1972 after a row with its publicist in which he made racist comments. He was replaced by Al Harrington as Detective Ben Kokua.

By then, Zulu had launched a night-club career as a singer and comedian in Hawaii, which included a five-year, $2.5m contract with C'est Si Bon Showroom in the Pagoda Hotel & Restaurant, Waikiki. For a while, he changed the spelling of his professional name to Zoulou, which he said was French Tahitian.

He also made television guest appearances in the American series The Brian Keith Show (1972, 1973, 1974, as both himself and Chief Hanamakii), Charlie's Angels (1981, in an episode set in Hawaii) and Magnum, P.I. (1982, as a hotel doorman).

He had been given a chance as a sidekick again in the television pilot Code Name: Diamond Head (1977), helping Diamond Head of a Hawaii-based government counter- intelligence agency to prevent a deadly nerve gas being sold to a foreign power, but it failed to make a series. Zulu also appeared in the television film The Paradise Connection (1979).

In 1988 Zulu was fined $500 and sentenced to a year's probation for second-degree negligent homicide after driving into a cyclist. Constantly battling ill-health, he suffered strokes and two heart attacks. Eighteen months ago he underwent a kidney transplant; he was awaiting a second at the time of his death.

Anthony Hayward