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Haruo Nakajima, the First Actor to Play Godzilla, Has Died

Japan's kaiju industry icon passed away Monday at the age of 88.

by Drew Schwartz
08 August 2017, 2:04am

Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage

Godzilla was a revelation when it stomped onto the film scene more than 50 years ago, captivating audiences in its native Japan and well beyond—a character so strong the studio that created it is still chronicling his strange, terrifying existence today. Now, the man who helped make the series such a success—literally bringing Godzilla to life—has died.

Haruo Nakajima passed away on in his hometown of Tokyo, the International Business Times reports. He was 88.

Working as a contract actor for the Japanese studio Toho back in the 1950s, Nakajima picked up a scattering of bit parts—a fallen warrior in Seventh Samurai, a pilot in Eagle of the Pacific—before settling into the role that made his career. Toho needed someone to get inside its giant reptilian monster suit for the title role of 1954's Godzilla and wreak havoc on a tiny Tokyo.

Nakajima took the role, and took it seriously—studying up on how a creature like Godzilla might move at the local zoo, where he took hints from elephants and apes (in the same way animator Willis O'Brien did when he created King Kong). He was so convincing in the terrifying role that he played the monster for 12 straight years, until 1972's Godzilla vs. Gigan. The role required Nakajima to don a 200 pound [90 kilogram] concrete suit, which, at times, could be torture.

"I stuck a thermometer inside the suit," he told CBS News back in 2014. "One hundred and forty degrees!"

Nakajima was Toho's go-to monster guy. Along with Godzilla, he had a chance to play Mothra—a terrifying giant moth—and even King Kong. Later in life, he spent his time traveling to a number of Japanese monster conventions, where he spoke with fans about his decades in the country's kaiju industry.

"In the end, the Godzilla I played remains on film forever," he told Great Big Story. "It remains in people's memory, and for that I feel really grateful."

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