Today we learned that original Godzilla suit performer, Nakajima Haruo (中島 春雄), passed away at the age of 88. Further details of his passing are not readily available at this time.
Nakajima started his storied run as the original kaiju king in Honda Ishiro's original Godzilla in 1954. The film, which has gone on to become one of Japan's most famous cultural exports over the last 60+ years, began not only a series of films, TV programs, action figures, and more, but also marked the beginning of the Japanese daikaiju (giant monster) genre of films that remains popular to this day.
The original Godzilla creature was first conceptualized as a stop-motion creation, but effects legend Tsubaraya Eiji eventually decided that the project would work better with what he called suitmation, at which point Nakajima got the call to give life to the enormous 200-pound suit.
Nakajima's tenure as Big G would last for twelve films and 18 years from 1954's original all the way through his swan song in 1972's Godzilla Vs. Gigan. In between Godzilla gigs, Nakajima was a contract performer at Toho Studios, finding work in not only other tokusatsu (special effects) and daikaiju films, but in all manner of other genres as well, even working with Kurosawa on The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and The Hidden Fortress.
In the years following his forced retirement in 1973, Nakajima slowed down a bit, but had become a fixture on the convention scene for some time and in recent years quite a bit, especially the US. I never had a chance to meet the man, but everyone I know who has - and there are many - always mentioned his incredibly gracious nature and infectious smile.
We will miss you.
Nakajima Haruo: 1929-2017