His name was as impressive as his size – and Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole lived accordingly.
Kamakawiwoʻole was the singer-songwriter behind the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World”, an elegant, peaceful rhythm-inspired medley.
Released in 1993 as “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”, the song was featured on Kamakawiwo’ole’s album Facing Future and featured in several TV shows and commercials. It was also used for the music scores for the films Meet Joe Black and Son of the Mask.
For his Kamakawiwo’ole, popularly known as Iz, Big Iz, or The Gentle Giant, the entrance was more than a musical bed. His smooth tenor, his ukulele, and Izu’s lovely falsetto marked his music as an expression of his native Hawaiian culture.
Obesity affects Iz’s health. He weighed nearly 1,000 pounds when he died in June 1997 at the age of 38.
He once said: ‘‘I guess this is gonna sound kind of weird, but I’m not scared for myself for dying, because I believe all these places are temporary. This is just one shell because we Hawaiians live in both worlds. It’s in our veins.’’
About 10,000 people attended his Iz memorial service and cremation. Although his life was absurdly short, his memory has created a musical signature in contemporary Hawaiian culture.