Ricou Browning, a skilled swimmer best known for his underwater role as the Gill Man in the quintessential 3D black-and-white 1950s monster movie “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” has died, his family told various media outlets. He was 93.
Browning died Feb. 27 at his home in Southwest Ranches, Florida.
In addition to acting roles, Browning also collaborated as a writer on the 1963 movie “Flipper,” and the popular TV series of the same name that followed.
He told the Ocala Star Banner newspaper in 2013 that he came up with the idea after a trip to South America to capture fresh-water dolphins in the Amazon.
“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?’” he told the newspaper.
Browning directed the 1973 comedy “Salty,” about a sea lion, and the 1978 drama “Mr. No Legs,” about a mob enforcer who is a double amputee. He also did stunt work in various films, including serving as Jerry Lewis’s underwater double in the 1959 comedy “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” according to The New York Times.
Browning told the Ocala Star Banner, he could hold his breath for minutes underwater, making him especially adept for the swimming part.
But nothing would mark Browning’s Hollywood career like swimming underwater in an elaborately grotesque suit as the Gill Man, a character that would hold its own in horror movie lore alongside monsters like King Kong and Godzilla. Browning did the swimming scenes in two sequels, “Revenge of the Creature” (1955) and “The Creature Walks Among Us” (1956). Other actors played the Gill Man on land.
He was discovered when the film’s director visited Silver Springs, where Newt Perry, who performed as a stand-in for “Tarzan” actor Johnny Weissmuller, was promoting one of Florida’s first tourist attractions where Browning got a job as a teen swimming in water shows.
Perry asked Browning to take the Hollywood visitors to Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. They later recruited Browning to appear in the movie, which was partly filmed at the springs.
Ricou Ren Browning was born on Feb. 16, 1930, in Fort Pierce, Florida. He swam on the U.S. Air Force swim team.
Survivors include his four children, Ricou Browning Jr., Renee, Kelly and Kim; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife, Fran, died in March 2020. His son Ricou Jr. is a marine coordinator, actor and stuntman like his father, according to The Hollywood Reporter.