It’s a sad day for Star Wars fans around the universe as it was just announced that Peter Mayhew, the original Chewbacca actor, has passed away at the age of 74 in his North Texas home, surrounded by his loved ones. His family took to his official Twitter account to confirm the news on Thursday.
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
The seven-foot-three-inch British-born actor, the son of a policeman, was working as a hospital attendant in London when he was discovered by film producer Charles Schneer. He was first cast in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger in an uncredited role. But he then was cast in the role that would define his career.
For decades, the towering actor played the role of the lovable Wookie pilot of the Millennium Falcon in the original Star Wars trilogy, alongside onscreen best friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and returned for Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. He also appeared in Star Wars conventions and developed deep relationships with fans and the Star Wars cast members
“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,” the family wrote in a statement. “But to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.”
While the cause of Mayhew’s death is yet unknown, he has had mobility issues in recent years. In 2018, Mayhew underwent spinal surgery but 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 Star Wars: The Last Jedi in an attempt to teach his successor,” the family said.
“As he grew older he continued to ‘soldier on’ as he put it and was completely in his element around fans and supporters,” his family said. “He grew great strength from the energy of his family, friends and the fans he knew and loved.”
Co-star Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke Skywalker in the iconic films, was quick to pay tribute to 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.” “I’m grateful for the memories we shared & I’m a better man for just having known him,” Hamill wrote on Twitter.
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-I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete #RIPPeterMayhew #Heartbroken @TheWookieeRoars pic.twitter.com/8xbq9HEWF2
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) May 2, 2019
Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children.
A memorial service for family and friends is planned for 29 June and a memorial for fans will take place in December at EmpireConLA.
Sources: Twitter, AFP