Ricou Browning, the horror film legend who starred as the Gill-Man in the 1954 movie “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” died Monday. He was 93.
Browning died in his home in Southwest Ranches, Florida, of natural causes, his daughter Kim Browning told The Hollywood Reporter.
“He had a fabulous career in the film industry, providing wonderful entertainment for past and future generations,” she said.
Browning was born Feb. 16, 1930 in Fort Pierce, Florida, and attended Florida State University. As a teenager, he worked for Newt Perry, a stand-in for Johnny Weissmuller on “Tarzan” films, in underwater newsreels and as a water show performer at Florida tourist attraction Weeki Wachee Springs. He was also on the U.S. Air Force swim team.
He landed his gig as the terrifying Gill-Man when he was showing Universal location scouts the area of Wakulla Springs, Florida, and did some swim moves for them.
The actor and stuntman was the last surviving actor of the original Universal Classic Monsters — a series of horror films by Universal Pictures from the 1930s to 1950s.
Browning as Gill-Man in the underwater scenes of “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” the 3D classic that followed scientists on an expedition to the Amazon, was considered to be one of the most terrifying movie monsters of all time.
Browning, who said he could routinely hold his breath for four minutes at a time, shared in a 2013 interview that his costume for the character “was cumbersome at first. When I first put it on, it seemed awkward and clumsy,” he said. “But once I got into the movie, I forgot I had it on. I 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.”
He filmed his scenes as Gill-Man in the winter, which got to be very cold — especially with the underwater sequences.
“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 returned in character for the sequels “Revenge of the Creature” in 1955 — which was also in 3D — and “The Creature Walks Among Us” in 1956.
While shooting “Revenge of the Creature” in St. Augustine, Florida, a turtle bit a foot off 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.
His stuntman work included Richard Fleischer’s 1954 film “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and acting as a double for Jerry Lewis in 1959’s “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”
Browning said in the interview with Ocala StarBanner that he “played all the bad guys” in the 1958 TV show “Sea Hunt,” in which he participated in 30 episodes.
Browning was the creative brains behind both the original “Flipper” movie and TV show, an idea he came up with when he and Perry captured fresh-water dolphins in the Amazon.
“We brought them back to [a Florida state park in] Silver Springs,” Browning said. “I became their parent, apparently, and took care of them. One day, when I came home, the kids were watching ‘Lassie’ on TV, and it just dawned on me: ‘Why not do a film about a boy and a dolphin?’”
Bringing home animals was not an uncommon move for Browning.
“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 1964-1967. 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.
In 1968, Browning was elected to lead the new Florida Motion Picture and Television Producers Association. In 2006, Film Florida awarded him its first Florida Legends Award.
Browning is survived by his four children Ricou Browning Jr. — who is also a marine coordinator, actor and stuntman — Renee, Kelly and Kim; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife Fran passed in March 2020.