Star Wars Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew dies at 74

by Kim Boateng Posted on May 3rd, 2019

Peter Mayhew, the actor best known for portraying Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, died at his home in Texas on Tuesday. He was 74.

His family confirmed the death in a statement on Thursday. A representative for Mr. Mayhew said he died after having a heart attack.

Mr. Mayhew — who was 7-foot-3 — donned a shaggy costume to play Chewbacca, the menacing yet cuddly Wookiee who was a sidekick to Han Solo and the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon. He appeared in all three films of the original trilogy, as well as in “Revenge of the Sith” in 2005 and “The Force Awakens” in 2015.

“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,” Mr. Mayhew’s family said in its statement.

The actor Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, said in a statement on Thursday that Mr. Mayhew “was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character.”

“These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca,” Mr. Ford said.

Mr. Mayhew was born in London on May 19, 1944. He had a form of gigantism and had grown extraordinarily tall by the time he was a teenager.

He was in his 30s and working as an orderly in a London hospital when a film producer spotted him in a photograph. He was ultimately cast to play the Minoton — a towering bronze figure — in the 1977 movie “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.”

Shortly thereafter, he was recommended to George Lucas, who decided that Mr. Mayhew would be a good candidate to play Chewbacca in “Star Wars.” That role altered the course of Mr. Mayhew’s life. In addition to appearing in “Star Wars” films, he did work in consulting and in commercials involving Chewbacca.

Mr. Lucas called Mr. Mayhew “a good friend” in a statement on Thursday and said he was saddened by his passing.

“Peter was a wonderful man,” he added. “He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature.”

After knee surgery in 2013 made it necessary for Mr. Mayhew to use a wheelchair, it was unclear whether he would be able to portray Chewbacca again. But after a period of intense rehabilitation, he was able to reprise his role one more time in “The Force Awakens.”

That was when he met Kathleen Kennedy, who had succeeded Mr. Lucas as the president of Lucasfilm. “I was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle nature,” she said in a statement Thursday. “Peter was brilliantly able to express his personality through his skillful use of gesture, posture and eyes.”

Mr. Mayhew regularly interacted with fans at conventions and on social media. He once tweeted a personal response to the woman whose infectious laughter about a Chewbacca mask charmed thousands of people in 2016.

Mr. Mayhew was also known to carry a cane that resembled a lightsaber. The tool was investigated once, briefly, by Transportation Security Administration workers at an airport; he tweeted about that, too.

In 2011, Mr. Mayhew and his wife started the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which has supported various causes including helping a young woman get approved for a lifesaving lung transplant in 2016.

Mr. Mayhew is survived by his wife, Angie, who will continue running the foundation, as well as three daughters and one grandchild.

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