The popular song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was composed and performed by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, a morbidly obese Hawaiian who also plays the ukulele. The legend of Hawaiian music affectionately referred to as Iz, was 38 years old. He weighed more than 1,000 pounds when he died in 1997, and thousands of followers showed up for his funeral.
The 1993 song, titled “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” was on Kamakawiwo’ole’s album “Facing Future” and was used in a number of TV shows, advertisements, and film scores, including “Meet Joe Black” and “Son of the Mask.”
In fact, Iz realized at the age of 11 that contemporary Hawaiian music had little in common with traditional Hawaiian music. Four studio albums and four compilations would soon follow, with his most well-known record, “Facing Future,” going double platinum.
All are filled with the calm, sunny ukulele that inspires the state motto’s depiction of island life in tales and anecdotes. It says, “The life of the land is sustained in righteousness.”
Iz’s health would suffer as a result of his obesity; he was about 1,000 pounds when he passed away in June 1997 at the age of 38. WBUR News quotes Iz as having said:
I realize this seems strange, but I don’t fear death since I think all of these places are only transitory. We Hawaiians live in both the land and the sea, thus, this is only one shell. We have it in our blood.
Watch the video below!