Haruo Nakajima, the actor who played the original Godzilla in the 1954 Japanese classic, has died aged 88.

Nakajima, who played the iconic monster a dozen times on screen, died of pneumonia on Monday after being hospitalised last month.

The Japanese actor also starred in Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai in the same year as the original Godzilla film.

Born in Yagamata, Japan, in 1929 Nakajima started his film career as a stuntman, getting his first acting break at the age of 25 as the instantly recognisable giant lizard.

In the film, Godzilla is awakened by a hydrogen bomb test and comes out of the sea, swimming to Japan and crushing Tokyo.

Haruo Nakajima
Actors Akira Takarada and Haruo Nakajima pose beside a gold statue of Godzilla

The film inspired several adaptations, including an American version in the same year co-directed by Terry O Morse and Ishiro Honda – the original director – titled Godzilla: King Of The Monsters.

But Nakajima was not a fan of the adaptation. In 2014, he gave an interview where he said: “I am the original, the real thing.

“My Godzilla was the best.”

The giant monster acted as a nuclear analogy for a grieving Japan, just nine years after the country suffered the two atomic bomb attacks which closed World War Two.

“Godzilla is a creature of the Americans,” Nakajima told CBS.

Godzilla, King Of The Monsters
Godzilla: King Of The Monsters was the American remake of the 1954 Japanese original

“Godzilla’s breath is nuclear radiation. He showed our audiences that atomic bombs are frightening.”

According to the film company’s website, Nakajima prepared to play the imaginary creature by visiting a Tokyo zoo for a week to analyse the moves of elephants, bears and gorillas.

He had to wear a 220lb suit which was “too heavy” and he struggled to walk just 30ft while wearing it.

Nakajima poetically said that playing the giant monster gave him “a sense of isolation”, likely referring to the thickness of the rubber used in the suit that he could not remove without help.

“But I started to enjoy playing Godzilla,” he said.

The franchise has produced 29 films in Japan and its legacy will continue in 2019, with the Hollywood blockbuster remake of Godzilla: King Of The Monsters.

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