Benihana Founder Dead at 69

'Rocky' Aoki led a colorful life
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 12, 2008 10:31 AM CDT
A Benihana chef.   ((c) midom)
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(Newser) – Hiraoki “Rocky” Aoki, a former wrestler, daredevil speedboat racer and balloonist who also happened to have founded the Benihana restaurant chain, is dead at 69, the Los Angeles Times reports. The colorful Aoki opened the first Benihana in New York in 1964 with proceeds from an ice cream truck venture; now the chain, famous for the acrobatic knifemanship of its chefs, boasts around 90 locations worldwide.

Aoki first came to the US en route to the 1960 Rome Olympics as a member of the Japanese wrestling team. He was over the weight limit and couldn't compete, but he returned to the US in the fall. In the 1970s and '80s, he gained renown for his daredevil antics, even crossing the Pacific in a hot-air balloon. Aoki resigned from Benihana in 1998 during a federal investigation into his—risky, of course—finances, and later was convicted of insider trading. His philandering was legendary.