Tom Moffatt, one of Hawaii’s most influential figures in the entertainment industry, has died.
He passed away at his home Monday night at the age of 85 after battling prostate cancer.
Affectionately known as “Uncle Tom,” Moffatt lived a rich life in public that spanned over five decades. Moffatt was born in Detroit but moved to Hawaii in 1950. He first made his name here as a radio disc jockey and personality during the 1950s and ’60s before becoming a noted concert and special events promoter through the remainder of his life.
Growing up in the islands, you might have heard his voice on the radio, or been to one of his many concerts, but what you may not know is how he managed to have such a successful entertainment career that went on for decades.
We spoke to his friends who said they’ve never met a more genuine man who was always true to his word.
That’s how he was able to do his job well. People trusted him.
His biography on his website details his noteworthy career. He was part of Hawaii radio history, working at KGU, KIKI and then KHVH where “Uncle Tom’s Gabbin'” became a hit with co-host Ron Jacobs.
Moffatt was also an integral part of Hawaii’s rock ‘n’ roll history as a member of KPOI’s “Poi Boys,” as well as promoting a string of popular music showcases at the old Civic Auditorium in the late 1950s.
His biography states that “of all the celebrities with whom Moffatt is affiliated, his fans most closely associate him with Elvis Presley. It was Moffatt who first played an Elvis record on-air, and it was Moffatt who introduced him in his first Hawaii concert in 1957.”
Moffatt would go on to assist Presley’s colorful manager Colonel Tom Parker in all of Elvis’ appearances in Hawaii –- from Presley’s first concert following his discharge from the Army at Bloch Arena, Pearl Harbor as a benefit for the Arizona Memorial, to his then-innovative satellite telecast “Elvis Live From Hawaii,” beamed from the Honolulu International Center (now the Blaisdell Arena) on Jan. 14, 1973.
In a 1996 interview, Moffatt remembered the first time he brought Elvis to Hawaii. “From the time Elvis arrived in Hawaii, the aloha he felt from the people was very special. He loved the people. He loved Hawaii.”
Moffatt continued to be on the radio late in life. Until two months ago, he was hosting “Uncle Tom’s Rock and Roll Drive-In” every Saturday morning on 107.9 Kool Gold. Programming director Adam Carr said it best: “He was bigger than life. The guy knew Elvis, you know what I mean? He knew Elvis Presley!”
“He thrived on that exchange what went out over the air and what he got back, so he was like a little kid,” said Bart DaSilva, who produced Moffatt’s radio show for 19 years. “He had a streak of mischievousness and he had a great sense of humor.”
The tributes kept coming from listeners Tuesday. “I remember sitting close by him at Elvis’ concert in Hawaii — two legends,” said a caller. “I miss him. I’m going to be crying for days like I did when Elvis passed.”
Moffatt’s Hawaii concert promotions over the decades reads like a who’s who of top-notch pop and rock music talent — from Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead, Bette Midler, the Eagles, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, Frank Sinatra, Earth, Wind & Fire, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, Santana, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bob Marley, James Taylor, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Journey, Barry Manilow, Mariah Carey, Chicago, Christina Aguilera and Bruno Mars, who Moffatt supported early in his burgeoning career.
“There’s never been an entertainer who has sold as many tickets as Michael Jackson in Hawaii,” he said. “Over 60,000 tickets sold in one day, well over 60. I mean, it was unbelievable.”
Nationally known talent manager Shep Gordon was his business partner.
“I got to not only be friends with him, but do business with him. I always said he’s the luckiest guy I know, because Tom would’ve paid to go to his concerts,” Gordon said. “He got real joy from the music. He loved the artists.”
The artists returned that love right back.
“He had relationship with people like Jimmy Buffet, Willie Nelson, that went on for years and years and years,” Gordon said. “I got a beautiful text from Willie saying, ‘Is it true? Is Tom really gone? That sweet, sweet man.'”
That includes local artists. Moffatt produced one of the most popular records to come out of Hawaii, “Honolulu City Lights” by Keola and Kapono Beamer in 1978.
“Tom had the vision to sort of see that back in those days, before anybody recognized the potential of that material as Tom did,” said Keola Beamer. Also included in that album, a familiar tune at the end of our newscasts.
Current concert promoters tell us the pressure is on.
“To fill Tom’s shoes is huge. That’s something that we’ve always aspired to and really just wanna push forward and keep doing that,” said Bamp Project co-founder Phillip Pendleton.
“He set the standard. We always wanted to be like Tom,” added Bamp Project co-founder Matthew Hazelgrove.
What was the secret to his longevity? We asked his friend of 54 years, former “Poi Boy” and veteran sportscaster Don Robbs.
“He was a man of his word,” he said. “That’s how he got the Eagles and Stevie Wonder and all of the big stars that got here. All of the contracts were written, but the name Tom Moffatt, when it went on that contract, it was good enough.”
Robbs says Moffatt set the standard in the entertainment industry, and his friendship will be missed.
“He was too ill at the end to have guests or visitors, so I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye and tell him I love him,” he said.