Peter Mayhew, who became known to fans worldwide as the lovable Wookiee Chewbacca in the Star Wars galaxy of films, has died. He was 74.
The actor died Tuesday in his North Texas home with his family by his side. His official Twitter account shared the news Thursday. Mayhew had undergone spinal surgery in July in an effort to improve his mobility.
The London native played Chewbacca in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back(1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Revenge of the Sith (2005) and The Force Awakens(2015).
Mayhew had done some minor acting — he played a minotaur in the Ray Harryhausen fantasy Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger(1977) — and was working as a hospital orderly when he tried out for the part of Chewbacca. He got the role based on his physique, as writer-director George Lucas was in desperate need of someone who would be able to play taller than Darth Vader. (In his prime, Mayhew stood 7-foot-3.)
After wrapping the first Star Wars, he went back to work as an orderly and did not leave the job for good until the release of Return of the Jedi, after which he made a living off of Chewbacca, becoming a favorite on the fan convention circuit.
While Mayhew did not provide the voice of the 200-year-old Wookiee (that was created by sound designer Ben Burtt), many credit the body language and expressiveness of the eyes the actor brought to the role in making Chewbacca a beloved character. It was a part that Mayhew would take on his whole life and well beyond the movies, reprising the role for appearances on Donny & Marie and The Muppet Show and, more recently, Glee.
"Peter was larger than life in so many ways … a gentle giant playing a gentle giant. Rest in peace," Disney CEO Bob Iger wrote on Twitter.
Finnish-born basketball player turned actor Joonas Suotamo took over for Mayhew in some installments, including Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Mayhew worked as a consultant on The Last Jedi (2017) to pass the baton to Suotamo, and at that film's premiere in 2017, he spent time chatting with his young protege and with Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill.
"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," Hamill tweetedThursday.
"Chewbacca is one of the most iconic characters in the history of film, and Peter's development and portrayal of this beloved Wookiee has spread so much joy around the globe," Suotamo wrote after he was cast. "Peter's guidance and kindness have been invaluable gifts which warmed my spirit and prepared me for this journey. I aspire to make Peter proud and bring Star Wars fans the Chewie they know and love."
A private memorial will take place June 29, and there will be a gathering for fans at EmpireConLA in December. Mayhew is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children.
We at CritiX want to send our condolences to the friends and family of Mr. Mayhew. May the Force be with you all!