Deaths Food

Benihana Founder Hiroaki Aoki Dies

Tokyo-born restauranteur Hiroaki ‘Rocky’ Aoki died on Thursday in New York City at the age of 69. The father of model Devon Aoki and DJ Steve Aoki succumbed to pneumonia due to complication from cancer, but had also suffered from diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis C–which he contracted from a blood transfusion.

A former wrestler on the Japanese Olympic team, Aoki moved to New York after failing to qualify for the 1960 games in Rome. He went on to open his first teppanyaki-styled restaurant in 1964, with $10,000 he earned selling ice cream from a truck.

Aoki had resigned from the company in 1998 after pleading guilty to an inside trade and had been acting as a consultant to the chain, which included over 85 restaurants worldwide.

A self-proclaimed “risk-taker” Aoki drove in the 1970s Cannonball Run, an underground cross-country race, competed in offshore powerboat racing, and became the first person to cross the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon in the early 1980s, setting a world record.

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