Hawaiian singer and activist Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole, as Google reminded us, would have turned 61 on Monday.
He didn't come close to that, having died at 38 in 1997. He had profound health problems stemming from his obesity. At one point he weighed over 750 lbs and had the sort of health issues one would expect.
They didn't affect his spirit though or his love of his native culture. He was immensely proud to be an advocate for Hawaiian culture and independence and in turn, the people of Hawaii had immense love for him too.
In this video, he is still relatively healthy as he sings Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World, but in the standard recording, you can hear the labored breathing of a man whose health is catching up to him.
You can also hear someone making hauntingly beautiful music using just his voice and a ukulele. It was and remains a masterful recording that illustrates, as well as any song could, that something that appears to be simple and uncomplicated is anything but. It’s a visionary performance. Surprisingly, it was reportedly a very late addition to his album Facing Future, which was released in 1993.
Near the end of the video linked above, hundreds of people are on the beach and in the water to honor him as his ashes are scattered from a boat into the Pacific.
Many fashionable songs and styles will be forgotten over the years but the simplicity and beauty of this recording, we predict, will endure for a very long time. It taps into something achingly beautiful and impossible to forget. He may be the most iconic Hawaiian of the 20th century and he left behind a short but brilliant masterpiece.