Ricou Browning Dies: ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’s Gill-man Was 93

Ricou Browning, the underwater stuntman who portrayed the Gill-man in the 1954 horror classic Creature trom the Black Lagoon and its sequels and went on to co-produce the dolphin tale Flipper for both the big screen and television, died quietly Sunday of natural causes at his home in Southwest Ranches, FL. He was 93.

His son Ricou Browning Jr, who works as a marine coordinator for film and TV productions, confirmed his father’s death to Deadline.

Considered to be the last surviving original actor to portray any of the Universal Classic Monsters, Florida native Browning studied physical education at Florida State University before landing a job in the 1940s at Wakulla Springs, a scenic park that had been used since the 1930s for underwater locations on various Tarzan movies.

Working at Wakulla Springs, Browning began performing in the underwater shows and newsreels conceived by fellow swimmer and promoter Newt Perry. In 1953 Browning was tasked with assisting a film crew scouting locations for an upcoming Universal horror film. Soon he’d be asked to don the humanoid fish costume that would become an iconic image in Hollywood horror: the Gill-man of director Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

Although actor Ben Chapman wore a Creature costume for the land scenes, it was Browning’s gracefully creepy aquatic performance that lent the film its most compellingly hypnotic scenes. Particularly memorable is a sequence in which Browning’s Gill-man swims just below the film’s heroine played by Julia Adams.

Browning would go on to reprise the underwater role in the sequels Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).

By the early 1960s Browning would branch out into other water-related aspects of the film and TV industries. In 1963, he ad writer Jack Cowden co-created a story about a highly intelligent bottlenose dolphin. The 1963 film Flipper — written by Arthur Weiss, produced by Ivan Tors and directed by James B. Clark — would do for dolphins what the earlier Lassie had done for collies.

A TV series adapted from the film would run on NBC from 1964-67. Browning directed more than 30 episodes of the series, which starred Chuck Connors as a warden of a fictional state park in Florida. Child actor Tommy Norden portrayed the warden’s son Bud, who befriended the title mammal. Around the same time, Browning directed episodes of CBS’ Gentle Ben, adding a bear to the TV menagerie.

His other credits include directing underwater sequences of the 1969 Tony Randall-Janet Leigh comedy Hello Down There, and four years later he directed the family film Salty, about a friendly sea lion and his human companions.

Browning worked steadily over the next several decades as second unit director, stunt coordinator or underwater sequence director on such films as Thunderball (1965), Around the World Under the Sea (1966), Island of the Lost (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983).

In 1980, Browning was a second unit director on Harold Ramis’ Caddyshack, lending his underwater skills to one of the comedy’s most notorious segments: a swimming pool scene that parodied the opening moments of Jaws, but with the shark replaced by a terrifying chocolate candy bar.

Along with his son, who followed his father into acting and stunt work, Browning is survived by his daughters Renee, Kelly and Kim and other extended family.


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