Ricou Browning, underwater creature in ‘Black Lagoon,’ dies at 93

Fort Pierce-born stuntman who made career of underwater sequences in film, TV dies at South Florida home
Mozert Collection
Mozert Collection(State Archives of Florida)
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 12:00 PM EST
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Ricou Browning, a stuntman whose skillset led to his performance as the titular “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and its sequels, died Monday at his home in South Florida, his daughter said. He was 93.

"He had a fabulous career in the film industry, providing wonderful entertainment for past and future generations," daughter Kim Browning told the Hollywood Reporter, saying he died peacefully at his Southwest Ranches home.

Born Feb. 16, 1930, in Fort Pierce, Browning studied physical education at Florida State University and learned to perform in underwater newsreels before he eventually found his calling – by chance.

While working at Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee in 1953, Browning was asked if he could escort a film crew scouting for locations for a new movie.

"Their cameraman asked if I could swim in front of the cameras so they could get the perspective of the size of a human being against the fish and the grass," Browning told the Hartford Courant in 2016. "So I did."

Days later, he was offered a job as the "Gill-man" for the underwater sequences in the 1954 Universal Pictures horror classic "Creature from the Black Lagoon."

Browning reprised his role in its sequels – "Revenge of the Creature" (1955) and "The Creature Walks Among Us" (1956).

"Revenge of the Creature" director Jack Arnold speaks to Ricou Browning, who played the...
"Revenge of the Creature" director Jack Arnold speaks to Ricou Browning, who played the "Gill-man" for the underwater sequences, with the crew on the set of the movie in 1954 in Silver Springs, Fla.(Bruce Mozert/State Archives of Florida)

The success of the movies led to a lengthy career in film and television.

Browning co-wrote and performed the underwater scenes in the 1963 dolphin adventure "Flipper," which inspired the popular NBC television series.

He also served as a stuntman and second-unit director on Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954) and was the second-unit director for the underwater sequences in two James Bond movies – "Thunderball" (1965) and its pseudo-remake, "Never Say Never Again" (1983), both starring Sean Connery.

Browning's other credits as an underwater sequence director include the hit adventure series "Sea Hunt" (1958-61) and the movies "Around the World Under the Sea" (1966), "Island of the Lost" (1967) and "Caddyshack" (1980).

Ricou Browning (left), co-creator of "Flipper," and animal trainer Ric O'Feldman are pictured...
Ricou Browning (left), co-creator of "Flipper," and animal trainer Ric O'Feldman are pictured with Flipper the dolphin in 1958.(State Archives of Florida)

Browning made his directing debut with the family feature "Salty" (1973), filmed in South Florida, and "Mr. No Legs" (1978), an unlikely action film about a double amputee with twin shotguns built into his wheelchair.

But Browning's legacy will live on in his indelible performances as the "Gill-man" (actor Ben Chapman played the creature on land).

"I get fan mail almost every day," Browning told People magazine in 1994.

Not only that, Browning said, he would get calls from people who wanted him to come to their parties in costume.

"Could you bring your rubber suit over and jump in the pool and scare everybody?" Browning recalled being asked.

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