Ricou Browning, who became a horror film icon after playing the Gill-Man in the 1954 film “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” passed away on Monday at the age of 93.
His daughter Kim Browning informed the Hollywood Reporter that he died of natural causes at his home in Southwest Ranches, Florida.
“He had a fabulous career in the film industry, providing wonderful entertainment for past and future generations,” she said.
Born on February 16, 1930, in Fort Pierce, Florida, Ricou Browning went on to attend Florida State University. During his teenage years, he worked with Newt Perry, who was a stand-in for Johnny Weissmuller in “Tarzan” movies, performing in underwater newsreels and as a water show performer at Weeki Wachee Springs, a popular tourist attraction. He was also a member of the US Air Force swim team.
During his time showing Universal location scouts around Wakulla Springs, Florida, Browning landed the role of the Gill-Man in the 1954 movie “Creature From the Black Lagoon” by performing some impressive swim moves for them.
As an actor and stuntman, Browning was the last surviving member of the original Universal Classic Monsters, a collection of horror films produced by Universal Pictures between the 1930s and 1950s.
Browning’s portrayal of the Gill-Man in the underwater scenes of “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” a 3D classic that followed scientists on an Amazon expedition, was regarded as one of the most frightening movie monsters of all time.
During a 2013 interview, Browning, who claimed that he could hold his breath for four minutes regularly, stated that he found the costume for the character to be awkward and cumbersome initially. However, as he immersed himself in the role, he forgot about the suit and became the creature.
“The lips of the suit sat about a half-inch from my lips, and I put the air hose in my mouth to breathe,” he said in a 2019 interview with Halloween Daily News. “I would hold my breath and go do the scene, and I’d have other safety people with other air hoses to give me air if I needed it. We had a signal. If I went totally limp, it meant I needed it. It worked out well, and we didn’t have any problems.”
During the filming of his scenes as Gill-Man, which included underwater sequences, Browning had to endure the cold winter weather.
“The crew felt sorry for me, so somebody said, ‘How would you like a shot of brandy?’ I said, ‘Sure,’ ” he remembered. “Another part of the crew [also] gave me a shot of brandy. Pretty soon they were dealing with a drunk creature.”
Browning reprised his role as Gill-Man in two sequels, “Revenge of the Creature” (1955) and “The Creature Walks Among Us” (1956). During the filming of “Revenge of the Creature” in St. Augustine, Florida, a turtle gnawed off a foot of his costume and swam away with it.
“It was the last pair of feet that I had on the shoot, so the prop men and the other stunt divers had to chase that turtle down and get the thing out of his mouth,” he said.
In addition to his role as an actor, Browning also worked as a stuntman. He performed stunts in Richard Fleischer’s 1954 film “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and served as a double for Jerry Lewis in 1959’s “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” He shared in an interview with the Ocala StarBanner that he also played the antagonists in all 30 episodes of the 1958 TV show “Sea Hunt.”
“Every time he got an idea for a movie, he would bring the animals home,” his daughter Renee Le Feuvre told the local outlet. “We had a sea lion that sat at the dinner table … We had otters, a baby black bear and a female peacock that would sit on our shoulder and drink iced tea out of our glass. All the kids in the neighborhood wanted to come over our house, because it was like a zoo.”
Browning and his brother-in-law Jack Cowden wrote the story for the 1963 film “Flipper,” which was later adapted into an NBC television series that ran for three seasons from 1964 to 1967. He directed 37 episodes of the show set in the Florida Keys and was in charge of the underwater operations.
The actor also directed some legendary movie scenes, including the harpoon-filled fight in 1965’s “Thunderball,” the “Jaws”-inspired candy bar-in-the-pool sequence in the 1980 movie “Caddyshack” and an underwater scene in 1983’s “Never Say Never Again.”
After being elected to lead the newly formed Florida Motion Picture & Television Association in 1968, Browning was awarded the first Florida Legends Award by Film Florida in 2006.
Browning is survived by his four children: Ricou Browning Jr., who is also a marine coordinator, actor and stuntman, as well as Renee, Kelly, and Kim; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife Fran passed away in March 2020.