Takei was born in Los Angeles, California, to Fumiko Emily Nakamura and Takekuma Norman Takei, who worked in real estate. His father was an Anglophile, and named him George after King George VI of the United Kingdom, whose coronation took place in 1937.
In 1942, the Takei family was sent to the Rohwer War Relocation Center for internment in Arkansas. The family was later transferred to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in California. Despite this experience, the family developed a renewed dedication and remained involved in the American democratic process. He and his family returned to Los Angeles at the end of World War II. He attended Mount Vernon Junior High School - he served as student body president - and Los Angeles High School. He enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley where he studied architecture. Later he attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he received a bachelor of arts in theater in 1960 and a master of arts in theater in 1964. He attended the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-Upon-Avon in England, and Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. In Hollywood, he studied acting at the Desilu Workshop. Takei is fluent in English, Japanese, and Spanish.
In Hollywood during the 1960s, he pursued his ambition to be an actor at a time when Asian faces were rarely seen on television and movie screens; Takei appeared alongside such actors as Richard Burton in Ice Palace in 1960, Alec Guinness in A Majority of One in 1962, Cary Grant in Walk Don't Run in 1966. He played Captain Nim, an ARVN commando alongside John Wayne's character in the 1968 Vietnam War era film, The Green Berets. He also had an uncredited role in the 1963 film, PT-109 as the helmsman who steers the Japanese destroyer over John F. Kennedy's PT-109, and also starred in an episode of Mission: Impossible during that show's first season in 1966.
In 1965, he met with a young producer named Gene Roddenberry who cast him as Mr. Sulu in the second Star Trek pilot and eventually the Star Trek television series. While working on the show he appeared as Captain Nim in The Green Berets.
Takei has since appeared in numerous TV and film productions, including the first six Star Trek motion pictures, and today is a regular on the sci-fi convention circuit throughout the world. He has also acted and provided voice acting for several science fiction computer games, including Freelancer and numerous Star Trek games. In 1996, in honor of the 30th anniversary of Star Trek, he reprised his role as Captain Hikaru Sulu on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, appearing as a memory of Lt. Tuvok, who served on the USS Excelsior under Sulu, during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Takei is one of a number of Star Trek supporting cast members who had publicized difficulties with William Shatner. However, in an interview in the 2004 DVD set second season of Star Trek: The Original Series, Takei appears to have settled things with Shatner. He says, "He's just a wonderful actor who created a singular character. No one could have done Kirk the way Bill did. His energy and his determination, that's Bill. And that's also Captain Kirk." He appeared alongside Shatner on the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner in which the two mocked each other in good humor and embraced, Takei noting that he was "honored" to be there "despite our past tensions".
In the Summer of 2007, Takei reprised his role of Sulu in the fan-made Internet based series Star Trek: New Voyages.
In 1972, Takei was an alternate delegate from California to the Democratic National Convention. The following year, he ran for Mayor of Los Angeles, finishing second in a field of seventeen to Councilman Tom Bradley. During the campaign, Takei's bid for the mayor's seat caused one local station to stop running the repeats of the original Star Trek series until after the election and KNBC-TV to substitute the premiere episode of the Star Trek animated series scheduled by the network with another in which his character did not appear. The other candidates in the race complained that Takei's distinctive and powerful voice alone (besides his image) on television every week created an unfair advantage. Thus Takei became an early example of the problems of the Equal time rule.
Mayor Bradley later appointed Takei to the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, making him part of the team that initiated and planned the Los Angeles subway system. Takei was called away from the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1978 to cast the tie-breaking vote for the creation of the Los Angeles subway system. He served eleven years on the board.
Also during this period Takei began his friendship with the future Mayor of West Hollywood and current Assemblyman Paul Koretz.
In 1979, Takei with Robert Asprin co-wrote the science-fiction novel Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe.
In 1986, the comic strip Bloom County had one set of strips where Takei was rumored to be dating Marie Osmond. Those rumors were subsequently denied by both Osmond and Takei. Also in 1986 Takei starred in "The Wish Child", a second season episode of MacGyver. In 1990, Takei appeared in the Australian film Prisoners of the Sun as a Japanese vice-admiral being tried for war crimes. The film also featured Takei's friend, Russell Crowe.
In the 1990s and early part of the twenty-first century he had guest star appearances on some science fiction television series. He played himself in a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode about a science fiction convention, and an episode of Malcolm in the Middle. In 1999, he was the voice of First Ancestor Fa in Disney's Chinese-themed Mulan animated feature.
He appeared as Warlord Shank on the show Space Cases. He also provided the voice of his own head in a jar in the Futurama episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before". In an episode of Scrubs he portrayed a minister that "looked like Sulu." He also provided the voice for The Warden on the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Imprisoned." More recently he guest starred on an episode of Will & Grace playing himself after he came out for the first time on television. In August 2006, he appeared again as himself in the episode "Shawn vs. the Red Phantom", also set at a science fiction convention, on Psych.
In November 2004, Takei was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun (with Gold Rays and Rosette) from Emperor Akihito for his contributions to U.S.-Japanese relations.
In August 2006, Takei was a guest on the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner. He sat on the dais, and was one of the many people who took part in the roasting, in which he took the time to verbally poke fun at Shatner. In the same month, he appeared as himself in an episode on the USA Network program Psych.
In January 2007, Takei began appearing on Heroes, playing the father of Hiro Nakamura, a time-bending otaku who also happens to be an obsessive fan of, among other things, Star Trek. Takei has often appeared on the Howard Stern Radio Show in recent years. His latest was a week-long stint as a guest announcer for the show in July 2007. He has credited Stern for the resurgence in his career.
Today, visitors to the Memphis International Airport can hear Takei's unmistakable voice over the intercom system. In 2006 Takei played the role of the psychiatrist in a Los Angeles, Calif revival of Equus, done at East West Players.
Takei serves as chair of the Council of Governors of East West Players, considered the foremost Asian Pacific American theater in the United States. He is chair emeritus of the board of trustees of the Japanese American National Museum.
The Howard Stern Show
Due to Takei's very distinctive voice and enunciation, he has been used frequently for soundbites on the The Howard Stern Show. "The Sulu Dance", made by Kidd Chris, was also played several times on the Stern Show as a tribute to Takei. As a result, he had become something of a cult figure. On January 9, 2006, it was announced that Takei would be the official announcer for The Howard Stern Show on Sirius Radio. He would be live in the studio for the first week and thereafter he would have pre-recordings done for the show, as well as appearing live on the show during occasional visits to New York, as his schedule permits.
Takei returned to the Howard Stern Show once again starting on June 12, 2006, for another week of broadcasts. In June 2006, he accepted a Freedom of Speech award for Stern; the award was presented by Talkers magazine. Takei was in the studio again for two days in late September, 2006, where he discussed his participation in an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages as well as his participation in the film The Great Buck Howard. He remarked that his appearances on the Stern show have greatly increased public awareness of his career and have contributed to his being offered more acting roles. Takei returned for a week of shows in mid-December 2006, and his life partner Brad Altman made a rare appearance on the "Wrap-Up Show" that followed the regular Stern show on December 13, 2006. In March 2007, he credited Howard for the resurgence in his career. His latest appearance was a week-long stint as a guest announcer for the show in July 2007.
Takei has developed an interesting relationship with Stern cast member Artie Lange, whom Takei affectionately calls his "cuddly muffin," and the two have become friends despite Artie's notorious penchant for gay jokes and his not being a fan of science fiction. They even spent one afternoon after the show touring New York's Guggenheim Museum together.
In October 2005, Takei revealed in an issue of Frontiers magazine that he is gay, and has been in a committed relationship with his partner, Brad Altman, for the last eighteen years. He said, "It's not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It's more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen." Nevertheless, Takei's sexuality had long been an open secret among Trek fans since the 1970s, and Takei did not conceal his active membership in gay organizations including Frontrunners, where Takei met Altman, along with fellow runners Kevin Norte and Don Norte, with whom he became friends.
"We are masculine, we are feminine, we are caring, we are abusive. We are just like straight people, in terms of our outward appearance and our behavior. The only difference is that we are oriented to people of our own gender." This is said to have been taken from a December 2005 telephone interview with Howard Stern, in which Takei described Altman as "a saint" for helping to take care of Takei's terminally ill mother.
Alex Cho, editor of Frontiers, has stated that the Takei article was initiated by someone in the Takei camp when a close personal friend called the papers to ask them if they would be interested in the story. The friend remains unidentified but according to Cho, Takei offered his story voluntarily and not under any pressure from the media. Kevin Norte and Don Norte, when asked if they were involved in initiating the article, declined to comment.
Takei currently serves as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign "Coming Out Project." In 2006 he embarked on a nationwide "Equality Trek" speaking tour sharing his life as a gay Japanese American, his 18 year relationship with Altman, Frontrunners, and Star Trek, encouraging others to share their own personal stories.
It has been reported that when asked of Takei whether his character Sulu was gay, Takei's response was that he would like to believe that sexual orientation would not even be an issue in the twenty-third century. It is perhaps worth noting that of all the show's principal characters, Sulu was the only male never depicted with a romantic interest. In the Star Trek episode "Mirror Mirror", the Sulu of the alternate universe tried many times to seduce Uhura. Sulu is revealed to have a daughter Demora during the opening sequence of the film Star Trek Generations.
In the wake of the 2007 controversy over ex-NBA player Tim Hardaway's anti-gay statements, Takei recorded a 'Public Service Announcement' which began as a serious message of tolerance, then turned the tables on Hardaway by proclaiming that while he may hate gay people, they love him and other "sweaty basketball players." This was aired on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Takei also appeared on the Google float at San Francisco Pride 2007.
Takei in popular culture
In the NBC TV series Heroes, the characters Hiro Nakamura and Ando Masahashi reference Star Trek throughout the series. Takei guest-stars as Kaito Nakamura, the father of Hiro Nakamura, and the license plate of his car is "NCC-1701" - the registry number of the Enterprise.
He appeared on the NBC show, Thank God You're Here, an improvised comedy program, in the episode originally airing on April 18, 2007. Takei walked onto the set, and after a few seconds when none of the other actors uttered the standard first line ("Thank God you're here!"), Takei began the scene with "Thank God I'm here!".
He also has made appearances as himself on USA Television Network's Psych and the Futurama episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before". Although there was a Sulu homage in the Family Guy episode "Stewie Loves Lois", it was stated in the DVD commentary that Seth MacFarlane did the voice. Seth also noted that he got laughs at Star Trek conventions doing Sulu impressions when he was younger.
In March 2006, he played himself again in an episode of Will & Grace entitled "Buy, Buy Baby" during the show's eighth, and final, season.
In the "Cory in the House" episode "Air Force One Too Many", Takei plays the Steward on Air Force One, Ronald, and utters his catch phrase when he experiences stomach problems.
Asteroid named after Takei
Asteroid 7307 Takei is named in his honor. Upon learning of the decision to name the asteroid after him, he said, "I am now a heavenly body. … I found out about it yesterday. … I was blown away. It came out of the clear, blue sky—just like an asteroid." Gene Roddenberry and Nichelle Nichols also have asteroids named after them.