94°F
weather icon Cloudy

Ralph Macchio waxes nostalgic about iconic role

The year was 1983. A 21-year-old aspiring actor was kicking back on a faux leather bean bag chair, surrounded by shag carpet, when the phone rang.

Ralph Macchio’s agent was calling about an audition for a teenager who learns to fight with the help of a wise mentor named Mr. Miyagi.

“I really didn’t like the title,” Macchio recalls with a chuckle. “I mean, ‘Karate Kid’? Some of my friends said to me, ‘What movie are you making? Is it called “The Cruddy Kid” ’?”

There’s nothing cruddy about a role that’s still going strong four decades later. “I was skinny and not particularly coordinated for martial arts when I got the role. But that was the role. The part was a kid who needed to learn,” he says.

And Macchio learned an important life lesson that has carried him into middle age.

“I said yes at the right time,” he says of the decision to portray Daniel LaRusso. “You have to take risks in life. Saying yes creates even more opportunities. It can take you in directions you would never imagine.”

This includes his hit Netflix revival. “Cobra Kai,” the series based on the “Karate Kid” franchise, returns for a sixth and final season with 15 episodes across three parts. Part one premieres on July 18, part two on Nov. 28 and the epic finale in 2025.

The plot revolves around midlifers Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), LaRusso’s friend and onetime rival, taking their students to Sekai Taikai, the world championships of karate.

“I look at the series like that big nostalgic embrace while telling relevant stories,” Macchio says. “I call it the second rebirth of the rebirth of the original movie.”

Macchio will also star in a big-screen remake of “The Karate Kid,” due out in 2025 and co-starring Jackie Chan. He is also the author of the bestselling memoir “Waxing On.”

When he’s not returning to the dojo, Macchio, whose work also includes “The Outsiders” and “My Cousin Vinny,” makes his home in L.A. with his wife of 37 years, Phyllis, a nurse practitioner. They gave two grown children.

His good life tips:

‘Karate’ kidding

Macchio says his kids didn’t know he was in “The Karate Kid” until they were older. “One day my daughter, who was 4 at the time, came to me and said, ‘Why do people see Daddy, stand on one leg and raise their hands in the air?’ ” he shares. “I had to say, ‘Honey, Daddy is not like the other daddies.’ ” He showed her the movie at age 5. “She watched her dad being beaten to a pulp and ran out of the room!” His kids also laughed at his teen magazine covers. “My son was 5 when he found some of my teen magazines. He ran into the living room and told my daughter, ‘Look! Dad was cute. And we missed it!’ ”

Make your mark

“Who doesn’t want to play a character that’s become somewhat iconic?” the actor says. “People feel like they grew up with me and Daniel LaRusso. Who knew that ‘wax on, wax off’ would become part of the American lexicon. That the crane kick would span decades. That ‘yes, sensei’ would give fans a thrill for so long.”

Keep moving

Macchio says it’s not easy to stay in “Karate Kid” shape at 62. “It was a lot easier in my 20s,” he says. “Everything hurts, but if you do a lot of stretching you can prevent injuries. Stretching is key.” His regimen includes strength work while doing 10-minute training intervals. “I try to add tennis and softball, anything cardio,” he says. “You have to make it fun. They key is not to overdo it,” Meanwhile, his diet focuses on portion control along with fruit, veggies, whole grains and protein. His best tip: “Don’t eat in front of the TV after dinner. That becomes mindless calories.”

Lucky in love

Macchio met his wife when he was 15. “We met in my grandmother’s basement when she came to my cousin’s sweet 16 birthday party. We hit it off right away. We even went on an early date to New York City to see a play. I remember my leisure suit!” he laughs. “We’re still in love. It can happen if you’re very lucky.

“She’s been with me through it all. There were times when the lights were about to be shut off or the car was about to be taken away. There have been ups and downs in my career. She was by my side during those moments and in better times. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Amazed by it all

Macchio says that a weekend watching “my New York Jets” is a great way to decompress. “I love the Mets, good food, a nice glass of wine, listening to music,” he adds. “I like to get up early and watch the sunrise. I still marvel at the fact that we’re on this planet. The sun comes up. It just continues. You have to be amazed by it all.”

Keep learning

“Bruce Springsteen says what he misses most about youth is the blank page,” Macchio says. “I understand that now. You had room on that page to write. But as you get older you realize the page still has blank spots. There is still time to write new stories and to keep learning. … I truly believe you are as old as you feel.”

THE LATEST
Richard Simmons dies at 76

TMZ first reported the news of the fitness personality’s death, with ABC News and other news outlets confirming the report.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, pioneering sex therapist, dies at 96

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the diminutive sex therapist who became a pop icon and best-selling author through her frank talk about once-taboo bedroom topics, has died.