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Date TimeMay 02, 2019
VoiceMark Hamill and William Shatner among those paying tribute to Star Wars star: ‘A big man with a bigger heart’
Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew dies aged 74
The family of Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars franchise, has announced his death on Twitter on Thursday. He was 74.
Mayhew died on 30 April in his North Texas home surrounded by his family, the statement on Twitter said. He is survived by his wife, Angie Mayhew, and their three children.
Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew dies aged 74
Following roles in the original Star Wars trilogy and episode three of the prequels, Mayhew “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. “He put his heart and soul into the role … The relationships that began then grew into the friends and family he would love for decades to come.”
The family will hold a funeral on 29 June and in early December 2019, there will be a memorial for fans of Chewbacca in Los Angeles at the fan event Empire Con LA. The family suggested fans and loved ones donate to Mayhew’s foundation in lieu of flowers or gifts.
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga, paid tribute to Mayhew on Twitter, saying he was “the gentlest of giants”, “a big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile”.
“I’m a better man for just having known him,” Hamill said.
Mayhew was a minor actor working shifts as a hospital orderly when he was cast as Chewbacca the Wookiee in the first Star Wars film, 1977’s A New Hope. The 7ft 3in tall actor was cast partly because he was taller than the 6ft 6in actor David Prowse, who played villain Darth Vader.
A fan favourite, he went on to play the character in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi, as well as two of the new generation films in the Star Wars saga: 2005’s Revenge of the Sith and 2015’s The Force Awakens.
Mayhew’s role was predominantly physical; the distinctive groans of the character were made instead by sound designer Ben Burtt. Yet despite heavy make-up and costume, Mayhew managed to bring an expressive subtlety to the character that resonated with audiences.
Mayhew’s family said on Thursday that his dedication to the role “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’s health had declined in recent years, culminating in spinal surgery last July.
Basketball player Joonas Suotamo (who is 6ft 11in tall) took over the role of Chewbacca in more recent Star Wars episodes, sharing the role with Mayhew in The Force Awakens, taking over for The Last Jedi in 2017 with Mayhew acting as a consultant, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, currently in post-production.
Actors and public figures have paid tribute to Mayhew on social media. William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in Star Trek, expressed his condolences on Twitter, remembering the times he saw the actor at conventions over the years.
JJ Abrams, cowriter and producer of a number of the new generation Star Wars films, posted a handwritten note to Twitter, saying “Peter was the loveliest man… kind and patient, supportive and encouraging. A sweetheart to work with and already deeply missed.”
Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, also paid tribute to Mayhew saying, “To create a beloved character with warmth and humor is a testament to any actor’s spirit. To do it under a half ton of yak hair takes a true legend.”
Robert Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, which has owned Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise since 2012, expressed condolences on behalf of the company.

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