Even at the age of 76, Don Ho was a big Hawaiian tourist attraction, as iconic as the surf and volcanoes. Two nights a week at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber hotel in Honolulu, Ho sang island tunes, welcomed out-of-towners and closed his show as he always did: with a second performance of his signature hit, “Tiny Bubbles.” He jokingly dedicated it to “those of us who can’t remember if I sang it earlier.” And as usual, on April 12, says close pal Tom Moffatt, “he got a standing ovation.”

It would turn out to be his last. Two days later, Ho died of heart failure after collapsing on the bathroom floor of his Waikiki home. In 2006, the singer (who leaves behind his second wife, Haumea, 44, and 10 children) had a pacemaker installed, and the year before, he flew to Thailand for an experimental stem cell procedure to repair his heart. “He’d been feeling better and hadn’t cancelled any shows,” says longtime pal Cha Thompson. “We all thought he had at least another year.”

In his heyday, the Honolulu native charmed fans including Clint Eastwood and Frank Sinatra with his breezy lounge act, first honed in the ’60s at his parents’ bar, Honey’s. And a generation remembers Ho’s cameo on a classic episode of The Brady Bunch in which the clan goes to Hawaii only to be cursed by an evil tiki. Says Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady: “The tiki brought bad luck, but I always felt lucky knowing Don.”

Many share that sentiment. Nearly 10,000 are expected at a May 5 memorial, after which a flotilla of canoes will carry Ho’s ashes out to sea from Waikiki Beach. “He knew how famous he was but he could never understand it,” says Thompson. “I imagine right now he’s looking down and thinking, ‘Wow.'”

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