Peter Mayhew, the actor behind the iconic Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, died this week at the age of 74. His family made the announcement Thursday on Twitter.
“The family of Peter Mayhew, with deep love and sadness, regrets to share the news that Peter has passed away,” Mayhew’s family said in a statement. “He left us the evening of April 30, 2019 with his family by his side in his North Texas home.”
The family did not state Mayhew’s cause of death in their statement. There will be a memorial service for friends and family on June 29 and a memorial service for fans in early December in Los Angeles. Mayhew’s family has asked fans to donate to the Peter Mayhew Foundation in his memory.
At 7-foot 2, Mayhew took on the famous role of Chewie in “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Revenge of the Sith,” and “The Force Awakens” before retiring. He was working as a hospital orderly when he first tried out for the role, when Lucas was eager to find an actor taller than Darth Vader.
“He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films,” his family said. After he retired, Joonas Suotamo took over the role future “Star Wars” films.
Mayhew rarely played other roles. He attended many “Star Wars” conventions over the years and wrote two books, “Growing Up Giant” and “My Favorite Giant.”
In September 2013, he had double knee-replacement surgery. In July 2018, Mayhew had spinal surgery to try to improve his mobility. He tweeted that the operation was a success.
Mayhew was born on May 19, 1944, in Barnes, Surrey, but became a U.S. citizen in 2005 in Arlington, Texas. He is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children.
Co-star Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, expressed his sadness 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,” he tweeted.
“Studying the character he helped create was always a daunting task, but one that was made easier by his tutelage and kindness as we sought to bring Chewbacca to life for a new generation,” Suotamo wrote on Twitter. “He was an absolutely one-of-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivaled class and I will miss him.”