RIP Rob Garrison — 'Karate Kid' Actor Dead At 59

Photo: Instagram
How Did Rob Garrison Die? New Details On 'Karate Kid' Actor Dead At 59

Rob Garrison, who is best remembered for yelling "Get him a body bag" right before the Karate Kid breaks out the Crane stance in the final tournament of the film, has died. He was 59 years old. Garrison never became a household name like co-star Ralph Macchio, but he went on to play supporting roles in television for decades after the 1984 hit film. He passed away in West Virginia this week after a brief illness. How did Rob Garrison die?

1. Garrison's early years

Rob Garrison was born in West Virginia in 1960 and graduated from Wheeling Park High School and Ohio University. He began his professional acting career at 17 with a role in Starship Invaders. He performed in other shows and movies as a teen, including Prom Night and The Littlest Hobo.

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2. The Karate Kid

Garrison was cast as Tommy in the Karate Kid. He played one of the bullying students from the Cobra Kai dojo who tormented Ralph Macchio's character, Daniel. As Daniel is facing his nemesis Johnny in the climactic karate tournament scene, Garrison can be seen in the background of the shot saying "Get him a body bag!" Despite Tommy's taunts, Daniel beats his opponent to win the tournament. 

"Get him a body bag!"

3. Later movies and television

While he went on to play the role of Tommy again in The Karate Kid 2, Garrison also continued to work in film and television for decades after those films. He was seen on shows like Macguyver, Columbo and Coach as well as in a film called The Pledge. This year, he joined the cast of the YouTube series Cobra Kai to reprise the role of Tommy for the series about the Karate Kid dojo. 

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4. Art imitates life

In Season 2 of the web series Cobra Kai, Garrison made a special appearance, reprising his role as Tommy. In the episode, the guys get Tommy out of a hospital where he is dying of cancer to have one final binding moment together. It's a poignant scene in light of Garrison's death now. Back in April, show producer Jon Hurwitz spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the plan to bring the whole cast together in that way. "We talked about that in the earliest talks we had amongst the three of us breaking story for season 2. And in that episode we had large parts of it worked out: We knew how it was going to end, we knew there was going to be some sort of karate in there, and we really wanted to bring those guys in in such a way that would inform the story that Johnny was dealing with at the time…," he said.  "We reached out to those guys, and getting to work with them on this show was yet another dream come true for us. And Rob Garrison, Ron Thomas, Tony O’Dell — they were all totally game. They were thrilled to get the chance to put on the masks of these characters again, to have a little bit more depth to them, more maturity, with time and resentment added to what happened the last time we saw them, in the parking lot at the beginning of Karate Kid II. It was just another layer to this show — all of a sudden, you’re in the woods with a bunch of grown men and you’re crying."

5. Cause of death

Variety reports that Garrison had been hospitalized with kidney and liver issues for the last several weeks. His organs shut down during his treatment at a West Virginia hospital. His family is currently making funeral arrangements. He is survived by his brother Patrick.

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6. Loving tribute from a co-star

William Zabka, who played Johnny on the Cobra Kai team in The Karate Kid, posted a warm tribute to his co-star on Instagram. "Yesterday the world lost a beautiful soul and an incredibly gifted actor, and I lost one of my dearest friends — the one and only, Rob Garrison,” Zabka wrote. “Rob and I met when we were auditioning for Karate Kid. We instantly connected and became friends while filming the movie. Our friendship grew stronger over the many years since then. Rob was a true thespian — an ‘actors actor.’ Working with him was always natural and effortless. He elevated every scene and moment inside of them. Outside of acting, he was one of the most selfless and wonderful human beings I’ve ever known and I will miss him immensely. Thank you to all of his fans for the tremendous outpouring of love & respect he’s being shown. I know it means a lot to his family and friends.”

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Wiliam Zabka posted a tribute to his friend.

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.