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'Star Wars' Chewbacca actor dies at 74

May 3, 2019

Most famous for portraying the beloved 200-year-old Wookie, Peter Mayhew was also an author and philanthropist. Legions of fans have expressed their affection for the man behind the beloved character on social media.

Peter Mayhew
Image: Imago Images/UPI Photo/J. Ruymen

Peter Mayhew, the actor who portrayed the Wookie Chewbacca in the Star Wars film franchise, has died at his Texas home at the age of 74, his family said on Thursday.

The news was met with an outpouring of condolences on social media, as legions of fans expressed their affection for the man behind the beloved character.

"The family of Peter Mayhew, with deep love and sadness, regrets to share the news that Peter has passed away. He left us the evening of April 30, 2019 with his family by his side," his relatives said in a statement.

His co-star Mark Hamill, who portrays protagonist Luke Skywalker in the series, shared some of his fond memories of Mayhew on Twitter:

Born in Surrey, England in 1944, Mayhew had acted in just one film in an uncredited role before he caught the attention of director George Lucas.

Lucas initially had picked bodybuilder David Prowse for the role, but that 6-foot 6-inch (1.98 m) actor instead played villain Darth Vader. A search for an even taller actor to play Chewbacca, Han Solo's friend, led the director to the 7-foot 3-inch (2.18 m) Mayhew, who was working as a hospital orderly at the time.

Chewbacca and Han Solo
Mayhew originated the role of Chewbacca alongside co-star Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the original 1977 'Star Wars'Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Mayhew portrayed the Millennium Falcon co-pilot in all three original films and the 2005 prequel, Revenge of the Sith. Wheelchair-bound after a double knee replacement, he shared the role with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo in 2015's The Force Awakens. Suotamo has since taken over the role.

Although he has stated that his great height was not the result of gigantism, Mayhew authored two children's books titled My Favorite Giant and Growing Up Giant, which touch on issues like bullying and being different.

Mayhew became a dual US citizen in 2005. He founded the Peter Mayhew Foundation together with his wife Angie Mayhew, which helps children and adults dealing with the "financial toll" of long-term disease.

He is survived by his wife and three children. The family did not disclose a cause of death, although Mayhew had previously announced that he had undergone extensive spinal surgery in 2018.

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Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.