British actor Peter Mayhew, best known for portraying the very tall and very beloved Chewbacca in the “Star Wars” film franchise, including “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Revenge of the Sith” and “The Force Awakens,” has died. He was 74.
Mayhew passed away April 30, according to a statement via Twitter from his family, which read in part:
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.
The official cause of death was not revealed, though some media outlets late Wednesday were reporting the actor passed away following a heart attack.
Mayhew underwent spinal surgery in 2018, the outcome of which required the use of a wheelchair at times, or a cane that resembled a light saber. The family’s statement referenced his determination to “stand tall” once again:
He fought his way back from being wheelchair bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. … He also consulted on ‘The Last Jedi’ in an attempt to teach his successor [Joonas Suotamo]. 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.
Mayhew developed lifelong friendships with the other “Star Wars” actors and spent three decades traveling the world to meet his fans, the statement says. Most recently, Mayhew was among the special guests at the Star Wars Celebration in Chicago.
According to Variety.com, the England-born Mayhew measured 7 feet 3 inches. Director George Lucas originally had his eye on bodybuilder David Prowse for the role of Chewbacca but Prowse decided to play Darth Vader instead and Lucas went with the even taller Mayhew.
“Peter was a wonderful man,” Lucas said in a statement Wednesday. “He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature — and I learned to always let him win. He was a good friend, and I’m saddened by his passing.”
“He was the gentlest of giants — A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly,” actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker opposite Mayhew, wrote on Twitter. “I’m grateful for the memories we shared & I’m a better man for just having known him.”
His family said he was active with various nonprofit groups and established the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which is devoted to alleviating disease, pain, suffering and the financial toll from traumatic events, its website says.
A private memorial service is planned for late June in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children.
Contributing: Associated Press