'Creature From the Black Lagoon' Star Ricou Browning Dead at 93

Ricou Browning, who played the Gill-man in underwater scenes in the 1954 Universal horror film Creature From the Black Lagoon and its sequels, has died. Browning passed away on Monday, Feb. 27 of natural causes at his home in Southwest Ranches, Florida, his daughter Kim Browning confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter, adding of her father, "he had a fabulous career in the film industry, providing wonderful entertainment for past and future generations." His death was also confirmed by another member of his extended family, Kristin LeFeuvre, who shared "with deep sorrow" in a Facebook post "the passing of a literal legend, Ricou Browning. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was always a treat to be around. A man of little words, but a quick wit and a flashy smile." Browning was 93.
Born on Feb. 16, 1930, in Fort Pierce, Florida, Browning attended Florida State University and worked as a performer in water shows at Weeki Wachee Springs before he landed a job in the 1940s at Wakulla Springs, which had been used since the 1930s for underwater locations on various Tarzan movies. It was there that his acting career began. Tasked in 1953 with assisting a film crew scouting locations for Creature From the Black Lagoon, Browning, who could reportedly hold his breath for four minutes, was asked to play the Gill-man in underwater scenes opposite Ben Chapman's portrayal of the humanoid fish's portrayal on land in the Jack Arnold-directed film. Browning reprised the role in the sequels Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Per Deadline, Browning was considered to be the last surviving original actor to portray any of the Universal Classic Monsters, which include Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy.

Browning's career didn't venture far from the water. Following his time as Gill-man, the actor and his brother-in-law Jack Cowden went on to write the story for what would become MGM's Flipper (1963). The film starred Chuck Connors and Luke Halpin, who returned for Flipper's New Adventure (1964) and for the NBC adaptation that ran for three seasons, from 1964-67. Browning also directed 37 episodes of the Florida Keys-set Flipper and was in charge of underwater operations on the show.
Throughout his career, Browning also served as a stuntman on Richard Fleischer's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), doubled for Jerry Lewis in Don't Give Up the Ship (1959) and "played all the bad guys in [TV's] Sea Hunt." He also tried his hand at directing, having directed the harpoon-filled fight in Thunderball (1965), an underwater scene in Never Say Never Again (1983), and the Jaws-inspired candy bar-in-the-pool sequence in Caddyshack (1980). His directing credits also include Salty (1973) and Mr. No Legs (1978).
Browning is survived by his four children, Ricou Browning Jr. (a marine coordinator, actor and stuntman like his dad), Renee, Kelly, and Kim, as well as 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife, Fran, died in March 2020.