Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy, died on April 30 at age 74, his family announced on Twitter. He is survived by his wife, Angie Mayhew, and his three children.
Mayhew’s film career began in 1977 with a role as the Minotaur in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, but it was Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which came out the same year, that made him a star. After British actor David Prowse decided to play Darth Vader instead of Han Solo’s faithful companion, George Lucas cast Mayhew as Chewbacca after a very brief audition. As Mayhew told the story, all he had to do was stand up. Lucas took one look at the actor, who stood at 7 feet, 2 inches, turned to his producer Gary Kurtz, and said, “I think we’ve found him.”
After filming Star Wars, Mayhew went back to working as an orderly at King’s College Hospital in London, but he didn’t stay away from Hollywood for long. Mayhew went on to reprise his role as Chewbacca in The Star Wars Holiday Special, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, and made a brief cameo as the Wookiee in Revenge of the Sith. He suited up again in 2015 for The Force Awakens but split acting duties with Joonas Suotamo due to his poor health. Suotamo took over the role for good beginning with The Last Jedi, although Mayhew continued to serve as a consultant.
Outside of Star Wars, Mayhew also had roles in the 1978 horror film Terror, the educational British series Dark Towers, a voice role in Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Legacy, and the Glee episode, Extraordinary Merry Christmas. He also wrote two children’s books with his wife, Growing Up Giant and My Favorite Giant, and established The Peter Mayhew Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life’s traumatic events.”
Still, Chewbacca remains Mayhew’s best-known and most-loved role, and the actor spent a considerable amount of time visiting children’s hospitals in full costume. “The Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film,” Mayhew’s family wrote. “Peter developed lifelong friendships with the other cast members and his fans while on the convention circuit touching the lives of millions.”
A private memorial service for Mayhew’s friends and family will be held on June 29, while fans can pay their respects at an official tribute at EmpireCon LA in early December, just a few weeks before Chewbacca returns to the big screen in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.
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