Haruo Nakajima, the actor who stomped in a rubber suit to portray the original 1954 Godzilla, helping to make the Japanese monster an iconic symbol of the nuclear era, has died. He was 88. Nakajima's daughter Sonoe Nakajima says he was hospitalized last month and died of pneumonia Monday, the AP reports. Haruo Nakajima was a stunt actor in samurai films when he was approached to take the role of Godzilla, which may be Japan's most successful cultural export. Some fans prefer Nakajima's version over some Hollywood depictions, which they say make the fire-breathing lizard an evil-looking animal.
Vivacious and energetic in a 2014 interview with the AP, Nakajima said he invented the character from scratch, and developed it by going to a zoo to study how elephants and bears moved. He said it was important to show the pathos of the creature, which could only smash everything in its way. "If Godzilla can't walk properly, it's nothing but a freak show," he said. He recalled that the rubber suit he wore was so hot, especially under the glaring lights of the movie set, that the sweat he wrung from his shirt would fill half a bucket. Until recently, Nakajima had continued to be a star guest at festivals and events. "I am the original, the real thing," he said in 2014. "My Godzilla was the best."