Actor-Director Keo Woolford Dies at 49

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AIEA, Hawaii — Multi-talented performer Keo Woolford, who had a recurring role on CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0,” died on Nov. 28 after suffering a severe stroke three days earlier. He was 49.

Keo Woolford

Keo Woolford

“As a writer, director, actor, and newly appointed kumu hula of Kumu Hula Robert Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua, he is most known for his successful one-man show, ‘I Land,’ which was the inspiration for his indie blockbuster, ‘The Haumana,’” said Tracy Larrua of Poi Planet, Woolford’s longtime friend and publicist.

“With a long career that has taken him to London as the King in ‘The King and I,’ and around the world as a member of popular Hawaii boy-band Brownskin, and everywhere else in between, he is a talent and extraordinary human being that will be missed.”

The Honolulu native was known to many for his appearances as Detective Chang on “Hawaii Five-0.” Daniel Dae Kim, who plays Chin Ho on the show, said via Twitter, “As talented as you were, I will remember you most for your kindness. Thank you for sharing your light with us.”

Actress Kelly Hu, a cast member of “The Haumana,” said, “He didn’t pigeonhole me like so many other people in Hollywood did. He gave me the opportunity to bring the character of Linda to life. He was a great talent who allowed other talents to shine. I will miss my chosen brother immensely.”

Woolford performed “I Land” at East West Players in Los Angeles in 2007, then returned to EWP in 2012 in his directorial debut of the critically acclaimed production “Three Year Swim Club.” Other previous EWP productions include “Stew Rice,” “Pacific Overtures,” “Heading East,” and “Big Hunk O’ Burnin’ Love.”

“Keo was an extraordinary spirit whose work deeply impacted and raised the visibility of the Hawaiian and API community,” said EWP Artistic Director Snehal Desai. “His passion and warmth have left a legacy along with his incredible body of work in writing, acting, directing, film, and hula. His impact is being felt not only in Hawaii, but also across the country. EWP sends our love to Keo’s family, community, and to everyone feeling his loss. He will be missed.”

Actress and playwright Jeanne Sakata, who frequently works with EWP, said in a Facebook post, “How devastated we are to lose you, dear brother. So kind and generous, so powerful and timeless in your artistry — dance, writing, acting, stage and film direction, music and song. I’ll never forget seeing you for the very first time in your solo show, ‘I Land,’ how blown away I was by the sheer beauty and power of the true hula you showed us. Though your earthly life has come to an end, your spirit will forever remain. A thousand alohas dear friend, and a thousand mahalos for all you gave us.”

“Keo … started branching out into writing and directing shortly after he began appearing in other people’s films screened at The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival,” said Abraham Ferrer of Visual Communications. “Imagine — from being an ensemble player on the East West Players mainstage to mounting his own one-man show, to directing a FEATURE! I can only imagine how scary that must have been being a first-time helmer, but when he brought that feature, ‘The Haumana,’ to the film festival back in 2013, Keo totally brought the goods on that debut feature, and we could even see a second one in the works for what must have seemed like one of the hardest-working Hawaiians in show biz.”

In an interview with KHON, Woolford said of his 2013 film, “It’s a universal story in finding your identity, finding where you fit in the world and doing what you love in spite of what anybody thinks and I think everybody can relate to that.”

Woolford’s other screen credits include “Godzilla,” “The People I’ve Slept With,” and “Act of Valor.”

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