Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew, who originated the role of the beloved Chewbacca, died on Tuesday, his family said. He was 74. He died at his North Texas home surrounded by family, according to the statement. His cause of death was not announced.
The actor starred in the original trilogy as the Wookiee Chewbacca and reprised his role in the prequel movie, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. He didn’t originally aspire to be an actor. He was working as a hospital orderly, according to his Facebook page, when a reporter snapped a shot of him that the producers of the 1977 film, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, saw in the newspaper and he was cast as the ‘Minoton.’
The England-born actor stood 7 feet 3 inches, a height that could give his hairy Wookiee character an intimidating quality alongside his disapproving, animalistic deep growls, but it was his gentle spirit, moral compass and close camaraderie with Han Solo as wingman of the Millennium Falcon that captured the hearts of generations of fans. The human behind the character exhibited the same resilient qualities.
“He fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” his family wrote, adding that he consulted on The Last Jedi to aid his successor. He participated in the Star Wars convention circuit as well.
“He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films from his knock-kneed running, firing his bowcaster from the hip, his bright blue eyes, down to each subtle movement of his head and mouth,” his family added. “But to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role on film.”
In a never-before-published interview with Rolling Stone conducted in 2015, Mayhew reflected on how his role as Chewie resonates beyond the films. “My character is a teddy bear, basically,” he said. “I bet you, if you looked around your office, how many people had a teddy bear as a youngster or a security blanket as a youngster? And that’s what Chewie is, he looks after everybody.”
He employed his fame to support charitable work, including 501st Legion, Wounded Warriors and Make-a-Wish, and also established the Peter Mayhew Foundation to support a variety of causes, from “individuals and families in crisis situations to food and supplies for children of Venezuela during their recent road to freedom.”
While Mayhew was known for his Star Wars role, and he portrayed Chewbacca outside of the films — including a 1980 part on The Muppet Show and for commercials and other appearances — he also appeared in the 1978 horror film, Terror, and was the author of two books: Growing Up Giant and My Favorite Giant, both co-authored by his wife Angie Mayhew.
A memorial service for friends and family is planned for June 29th, with a fan memorial to take place in December at in Los Angeles, California, at EmpireConLA.
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 in his North Texas home. pic.twitter.com/YZ5VLyuK0u
— Peter Mayhew (@TheWookieeRoars) May 2, 2019