Ibtimes reports that legendary stuntman Haruo Nakajima passed away at 88. Nakajima was best known for playing Godzilla in the first twelve films in the series.
The Yamagata native was born in 1929 and performed stunts for many films, including Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) where he played a thief. The same year he and Katsumi Tezuka were picked by the legendary special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya to play the title creature in Godzilla.
In preparation for the role, Nakajima watched the original King Kong (1933) and animal behavior at the Ueno Zoo. However, the suit made it difficult to perform. Despite being able to open and close the mouth from inside, the suit's immense weight and interior heat left Nakajima blistered, exhausted and twenty pounds lighter by the end of the production. (Cups of the actor's sweat was usually drained between takes.)
Initially, the famous scene in which Godzilla destroys the National Diet building was to be shot with Tezuka in the suit. However, a bad take resulting in damage to the model allowed Nakajima to take over--It is his performance that destroys the Diet in the finished film.
Months later, Nakajima would reprise the role in Godzilla Raids Again (1955). While shooting the film's climax, where Godzilla is being buried in an avalanche, the weight of the suit and crushed ice caused the set's platform to collapse. Nakajima and cable operator Eizo Kaimai were not seriously injured, but Nakajima would tumble much further in 1956's Rodan.
Taking on the role of a flying, prehistoric monster, Nakajima's 150-pound Rodan suit was thankfully supported by reinforced steel beams. However, that didn't stop a cable from snapping twenty feet over the Sakai Bridge set. Luckily the water lessened the impact. 
Nakajima would continue to play kaiju such as Mogera, Varan and even Mothra, but he would not return to Godzilla until 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla. Tsuburaya allowed Nakajima and Kong suit actor Shoichi Hirose to choreograph the fights, opting to stage the epic battle like a wrestling match.  Nakajima's involvement with the series would later extend to the suit-making process. 
During the construction of the highly praised suit from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), Nakajima would periodically wear the unfinished product to determine its weaknesses. The end result was a more form fitting and mobile costume. Though he still had to contend with the 130 degree temperature within. 
Nakajima would continue to play Godzilla and other monsters for several years, donning the costumes of Baragon (Frankenstein Conquers the World ), King Kong (King Kong Escapes ) and multiple monsters on Tsuburaya's Ultra Q (1966), Ultraman (1966) and Ultra Seven (1967).
Nakajima's final monster performance would be in Godzilla vs. Gigan (1971). Though he played many monsters, he would end his stunt career as the Monster King that started it all. In the film he faces off against Kenpachiro Satsuma as Gigan--Who would take over the role of Godzilla in the 1980s and 90s.
Late in his life, Nakajima continued to be active in the fandom, going as far as touring North American conventions to greet overseas fans. This Halloween, the Tokyo International Film Festival will be screening the original Godzilla with a live orchestra. Nakajima was scheduled to attend.
In January, Nakajima's wife, Kuniko, passed away at 88. Our condolences, love and prayers go out to their daughter, Sonoe Nakajima and extended family. The fandom is ever grateful for the man who was the Godzilla. No actor and/or digital effects will ever do it as well or be nearly as versatile.
The King of the Monsters is dead. Long live the King of the Monsters.
 Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters - Pg 39 - Ragone, August
 A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series - Pg 18 - Kalat, David
 Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters - Pg 42 - Ragone, August
 Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters - Pg 45 - Ragone, August
 Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters - Pg 50 - Ragone, August
 Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters - Pg 70 - Ragone, August
 A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series - Pg 68 - Kalat, David
 A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series - Pg 124 - Kalat, David
 Crunchyroll - Godzilla Cinema Concert
 Skreeonk.com - Facebook Page
*Header image from Anime Boston Con.
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