Ricou Browning (1930-2023)
6th March 2023
Underwater director and stuntman Ricou Browning has died aged 93
By MI6 Staff
Ricou Ren Browning was born on February 16th, 1930, in Fort Pierce, Florida, USA. After he majored in physical education at Florida State University, he started to perform in water shows, leading to him producing and then starring in news reels. In the film industry, he became a director, actor, producer, screenwriter, underwater cinematographer, and stuntman.
Best known for his underwater stunt work, especially in 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' (1954) where he portrayed the titular Gill-man during the film's underwater scenes, Browning also co-created the hit show 'Flipper' with Jack Cowden.
When James Bond needed underwater expertise for the 1965 outing 'Thunderball', producer Kevin McClory turned to Browning to direct the action under the waves. “I got a call from Kevin McClory,” Browning told MI6 Confidential (issue #35). “He asked me if I could go to London to meet with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to talk to them about doing the underwater sequences.” It transpired that Browning was up against Jacques Cousteau for the gig.
For the large underwater fight scenes, Ricou rounded up his troops in Miami. “I had a crew of about 15 people I used and could have them come with me, so I was very comfortable with that. Of course, for the fight scenes, we had to hire a whole bunch of extra divers and train some of them.”
Browning had to devise a series of hand signals so the stunt teams could coordinate underwater. But despite numerous rehearsals above the water, accidents did happen when the cameras rolled. Browning was briefly hospitalized on one such occasion. “I was in one of the fight scenes,” Ricou remembered. “We were fighting on the deck, and we rolled down to the lower deck, and there was a speargun leaning against the wall, and my leg hit the speargun, and the barb went into my leg.” Browning was rushed to the hospital in Nassau where they cut the barb out, but he was back at work the next day.
He had fond memories of the production. “I enjoyed it for a couple of reasons… they didn’t have fights, so
I could create them and do whatever I wanted. The second reason was… I had an unlimited budget! There was no pressure, I relaxed and was able to do what I wanted to do.”
When Kevin McClory exercised his rights to remake 'Thunderball' in the shape of 'Never Say Never Again' in 1983, he called upon Browning once again to handle the underwater sequences. This time, Sean Connery played more of an active role as, although he had some scuba experience back in 1965, his 17 years in the Bahamas since had seen him gain confidence.
Over his career, Browning worked on over 20 film productions as well has his hit TV shows 'Sea Hunt,' 'The Aquanauts,' and 'Flipper.'
Browning had a son, Ricou Browning, Jr. (who is also a marine coordinator, actor, and stuntman0 and three daughters - Renee, Kelly, and Kim, along with 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife, Fran, died in March 2020. Browning died at home in Southwest Ranches, Florida, on February 27th, 2023, at age 93.