Alvin Ing, a pioneering Asian American actor who appeared on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song and Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures and whose guest roles on numerous television series stretched from the 1970s until very recently, died July 31 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, of Covid-19 complications. He was 89.
Ing’s death was previously confirmed by his representation, Shushu Entertainment, but today his reps disclosed that the fully-vaccinated Ing was first diagnosed with pneumonia in mid-July and then confirmed to have Covid-19 a few days later. After two weeks of battling the illness, he died due to cardiac arrest, they said.
“Honolulu native and American Army veteran with a gift to serve, he felt a duty to himself and his fellow citizens to be fully vaccinated,” said spokesperson Shaina Manlangit in a statement approved by Shushu.
Deaths and hospitalizations from breakthrough Covid are considered to be extremely rare.
A longtime advocate for the AAPI community in the entertainment industry (he was an active member of the Theater for Asian American Performing Artists), Ing was praised by colleagues. BD Wong, who co-starred with Ing in Broadway’s Pacific Overtures, said, “Since forever, the reputation of Asian American actors has been defiled by a well known, but rarely spoken, sentiment: we will never be as good as our colleagues of other colors, never mind better. One day Alvin Ing sang for me, and I finally knew, for keeps, that anyone who thought this was pitifully mistaken.”
Lea Salonga, who starred with Ing in Broadway’s Flower Drum Song, said, “His voice was glorious and filled the room with its flawless sound, but beyond that, his sound was steeped in joy. Alvin was a joyful presence to be around at every rehearsal and performance. Beyond that his voice always sounded incredible, he brought a sweetness and kindness everywhere and to everyone. There was always a gentleness to him, but also a sassy sense of humor. He was a gift to everybody that got to work with him, and I’m only extremely blessed to have had that opportunity.”
Born in Honolulu, Ing studied music at the University of Hawaii before moving to New York at age 25, where he landed various roles Off Broadway and in touring stage productions prior to making his Broadway debut in the 1976 original production of the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical Pacific Overtures. He would reprise that performance as Shogun’s Mother when the musical was revived on Broadway in 2004 with Wong.
Also on Broadway, Ing starred in the 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song, a production that featured a heavily revised book by David Henry Hwang. Ing, as Uncle Chin, performed a song — “My Best Love” — that had been left out of the original 1958 production. Ing also appeared in many other productions of the musical.
In a statement, Hwang said, “He was the beloved link between generations of AAPI performers who had found employment and sometimes even stardom during a time when other opportunities were virtually non-existent. As an AAPI actor of his generation, Alvin faced terrible racist exclusion, yet survived as an artist with his joy and talent (not to mention, his high notes) intact.”
Other stage credits include Two Gentlemen of Verona, City of Angels, The World of Suzie Wong and the Dick Lee musical Sing to the Dawn.
Ing’s many television credits, beginning with a 1974-75 recurring stint on daytime drama The Doctors, would include the 1976 presentation of Pacific Overtures, Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, Benson, Dallas, Falcon Crest, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the reboot of Hawaii Five-0. He appeared in such films as Stir Crazy (1980), Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997) and this year’s Bad Detectives. In 2014, he played Mister Lee in The Gambler, starring Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Lange.
During the 1970s, Ing was involved with the Theater for Asian American Performing Artists, performing skits and protesting Asian American stereotypes.
In 2013, Ing auditioned for The X-Factor, announcing that he would celebrate with a nine-course dinner in Chinatown:
Ing also performed in cabaret over the decades, coming out publicly as gay at once such event in 2016 at age 84. In an interview from earlier this year, Ing explained that decision: “Lainie Sakakura, who put my act together, she convinced me that I was old enough not to be so reticent about it. In a way, it was very satisfying, but I really would like to do it for the gay community…Because, number one, I’m old, I’m Asian, and I’m gay, so maybe it would be, I don’t know, an inspiration for other people.”
Two celebrations of Ingj’s life are being produced by his Flower Drum Song revival cast members, Yuka Takara and Lainie Sakakura. An online memorial titled “Old Friends” will take place on Sunday, August 15, for close friends and family. A live memorial concert titled “A Celebration of Alvin Ing’s Life and Legacy” is being planned for New York and will be streamed online, with additional details to come. In lieu of flowers, Abingdon Theatre Company is accepting donations for Alvin Ing’s New York Memorial Celebration and the newly created Alvin Ing Scholarship Fund.
Here are some tributes from social media:
I mourn the loss of my friend
R I P ALVIN ING
May 26, 1932 – July 31, 2021 pic.twitter.com/Nq5itTW4c5
— Alan Ariano (@AlanAriano) August 1, 2021
This is an old photo of my friend Alvin Ing. The other pic was taken while we were in rehearsal for Flower Drum Song (with @thejosellana & @tellyleung). Never forgot that his were shoulders upon which all of us younger ones stood. Rest In Peace, dearest. pic.twitter.com/bEv9miAqha
— Lea Salonga (@MsLeaSalonga) August 1, 2021
There was only one ALVIN ING, and a generation of Asian performers would not be where are today without his leadership and courage. Boy, I will miss you, my friend. https://t.co/X2rIhlgSOm
— Telly Leung (@tellyleung) August 2, 2021
— Seth Rudetsky he/him (@SethRudetsky) August 1, 2021