Haruo Nakajima, Man Inside Godzilla Suit, Dies at 88

Original Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima,
Kurokawa/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The man behind the monster has died: Haruo Nakajima, who wore the Godzilla bodysuit for every “Godzilla” film from the original to 1973’s “Godzilla vs. Megalon,” has died at 88.

Japanese movie major Toho confirmed Nakajima’s death. “We offer our heartfelt prayers for the soul of Mr. Haruo Nakajima, who was the first suit actor to play Godzilla, our company’s signature character,” the company said in a statement. It confirmed that he died from pneumonia on Monday (Aug. 7).

Nakajima’s career began in samurai and war films, notably “Seven Samurai” by Akira Kurosawa and “Eagle of the Pacific.” He landed the “Godzilla” role starting with 1954’s “Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” directed by Ishiro Honda. And shared the credit on the first film with Katsumi Tezuka, a former professional baseball player.

In an April interview, Nakajima explained how the original 1954 Godzilla costume was created from ready-mixed concrete — though other reports describe it as a special plastic — since commodities like rubber were in short supply after WWII. As a result, the actor was forced to wear a suit that weighed up to 100 kilos. Nakajima added that he was given little direction on how to portray the monster, and conducted his own research by studying animals in the Tokyo zoo.

Nakajima took on the monster role in more than just “Godzilla” films, however. As the principal suit actor for Toho, he also played Mothra in 1961 and King Kong in 1967’s “King Kong Escapes,” among many other Japanese kaiju roles such as “War of the Gargantuas” and “Frankenstein Conquers the World.” In his later years, Nakajima attended Japanese monster conventions, including several across the United States, and wrote a Japanese language autobiography “Monster Life: Haruo Nakajima, the Original Godzilla Actor,” which was published in 2010.

“Godzilla” has gone on to become a monster classic. It spawned three Hollywood remakes, in addition to 29 original Toho films.

  • Mark Schilling in Tokyo also contributed to this report.

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  1. TV Viewer says:

    Thank you Mr. Nakajima, (and Toho), for the monster created by atomic weapons, testing, and the wastes from atomic power plants that will be radioactive for many years to come.Science-fiction with a warning about messing with the environment. As long as there are threats from radioactivity, I am sure people will still be watching Gojira/Godzilla movies.
    Rest in peace beloved entertainer.

  2. Ralph Preedy says:

    RIP, Mr. Nakajima. Thank you so much for the fond memories of my favorite monster from my childhood. You will live on always as “GODZILLA (Gojira)” for generations to come! My condolences to your family.

  3. michaelprestage says:

    I just wanted to send out some thanks to Variety and Erin for not allowing Mr. Nakajima’s passing to go unnoticed. No doubt the majority of Variety readers, and I suspect many sci-fi fans as well, have most likely never heard of him personally, despite his being the longtime driving force behind one of the most iconic characters the world over. Ever the professional, Mr. Nakajima evolved along with his alter-ego through two decades as the changing times, mores, and sometimes limited budgets dictated. From his aptly-grim portrayal of Gojira in the 1954 original, to his over-the-top fisticuffs and Godzilla victory dance from the swinging 60’s, he brought the big guy to life in a unique way that was truly LARGER-than-life.

    For those of us who grew up on a steady diet of haphazardly televised late night sci-fi and filmic mayhem, we surely lost a bit of our ourselves today. Fortunately, Mr. K’s fine work… safely in the confines of classic Tohoscope… will live on in cinematic perpetuity.

  4. I hope he liked BOC “godzilla”. I had to listen to it in memory of him.

  5. Julian says:

    Rest in peace you’ll always be remembered as the man who was Godzilla you were an inspiration to people who loved Godzilla. Including me

  6. Jim Flack says:

    While Nakajima did go on to portray Godzilla, King Kong and many monsters in Tsuburaya Productions (Ultraman, etc) and Toho films, Gojira was also portrayed in the original “Gojira” by Katsumi Tezuka who appears as the newspaper editor-in-chief. And if you look close to the left of the seated reporters, you’ll see Nakajima there, too. (Only in the Japanese version)

  7. Thank you indeed Mr. Nakajima….you brought great joy to my boyhood!!

  8. BillUSA says:

    God bless you, Mr. Nakajima. Thank you for many memorable hours of Godzilla. My regards to your family.

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