Biography of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Cover Art for Facing Future

BigBoy Records

Israel "Bruddah IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole was born on May 20, 1959, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Israel began playing music at age 11 and released his first solo album, Ka'ano'i in 1990. He died in 1997 at age 38 of respiratory problems brought on by his morbid obesity. Despite his short life, his gentle ukulele playing and hauntingly beautiful voice made him a musical legend.


Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was already popular in Hawaii when he burst onto the world music scene in 1993 with his album Facing Future. The album shot to number one on the Billboard World Music charts, and in Hawaii, Iz became a bona fide star. Facing Future contained the song that would eventually become most associated with him: his medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World."

Famous Works

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (from The Wizard of Oz) and Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" is almost impossibly beautiful, and has been used in many TV shows and movies, including ​ER, Scrubs, 50 First Dates, Meet Joe Black, and Finding Forrester.

Political Activism

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a staunch advocate for Hawaiian independence and Hawaiian cultural and environmental issues. Some of his lyrics even spoke on the topic of Hawaiian sovereignty.


Israel Kamakawiwo'ole died in 1997 at the age of 38. He had suffered from morbid obesity his entire life, topping 750 pounds at one point. He died in the middle of the night of respiratory failure. He was laid in honor in Hawaii's Capitol building, and his ashes were later scattered into the ocean. He left behind his wife and young teenage daughter.