Haruo Nakajima, Original 'Godzilla' Actor, Dies at 88

Haruo Nakajima as Godzilla - Photofest - P 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

He wore the iconic monster suit for 12 films from 1954 to 1972, as well as appearing in Akira Kurosawa classics at Toho.

Haruo Nakajima, who wore the Godzilla suit for the first 12 movies in the beloved monster franchise, died Monday. He was 88.

The actor, known in Japan as "Mr. Godzilla," died of pneumonia, his daughter Sonoe Nakajima told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Nakajima played the iconic monster and a reporter in Ichiro Honda's 1954 classic Godzilla, as well as appearing the same year as a bandit in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, two of the best-known films in Japanese cinematic history.

A native of Yamagata in Japan's northeast, Nakajima went on to play monsters in other kaiju films, including Honda's Mothra in 1961. He also appeared in other Kurosawa productions, including Yojimbo and Hidden Fortress, the latter a major influence on George Lucas' original Star Wars.

According to Nakajima, the Godzilla suit in the 1954 film was made partly of concrete and weighed more than 200 pounds. Given little direction on portraying the monster, the actor visited a zoo in Tokyo and studied the movements of animals to emulate when he stomped across a miniature set of the Japanese capital.

"My biggest influence came from bears, the way bears move is very interesting," Nakajima said in a 2008 documentary about playing the monster.

Released from his acting contract by studio Toho in 1973, Nakajima began appearing at monster conventions during the 1990s. He was due to appear at a talk show before a screening of a digitally remastered version of the original Godzilla with a live orchestra at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October.

Aug. 8, 7:56 a.m. This story has been updated with AP confirmation of Nakajima's death.