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Original 'Star Wars' Chewbacca Peter Mayhew Dies at 74

Newsweek logo Newsweek 03/05/2019 Just Lunning

(Video by: USA Today)

Actor Peter Mayhew, who originated the role of Chewbacca, and continued to play him in most forms of Star Wars media until 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens died on April 30, 2019.

According to a statement released Thursday on the actor's Twitter account, Mayhew passed away in his North Texas Home, surrounded by his loved ones.  

London-born Mayhew began acting when he was scouted for the role of the Minotaur in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger due to a producer spotting his unusually large feet in a newspaper article.

Peter Mayhew wearing a suit and tie © Ethan Miller via Getty Images Peter Mayhew Later that year Mayhew then went onto audition for his most iconic role, Chewbacca, where he became the body and soul of the bowcaster-wielding Wookie. The then-unknown actor got the role due to his towering 7’3” physique that allowed him to stand tall above even Darth Vader. Although Chewbacca’s voice was engineered by sound designer Ben Burtt, many attribute the character’s expressiveness to Mayhew’s exceptional skill at body language.

Mayhew played Chewbacca across five Star Wars films: Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Revenge of the Sith (2005) and The Force Awakens (2015), though Finnish former college basketball player Joonas Suotamo — who would take on the role permanently in subsequent films — was credited as Chewbacca's double in that film.

Mayhew also voiced the character on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, for the season three episode “Wookie Hunt.”

Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew and Ford Harrison in Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope. © Shutterstock Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew and Ford Harrison in Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope. Mayhew’s Chewbacca appearances went well beyond the Star Wars franchise. He would often reprise the role for non-Star Wars properties, like Glee, The Muppet Show, and Donny & Marie.

Outside of Star Wars, Mayhew also provided the voice of the Dragon Ball GT: A Hero's Legacy character, Susha. 

FILE - In this Oct. 5, 1978 file photo, actors featured in the "Star Wars" movie, from left, Harrison Ford who played Han Solo, Anthony Daniels who played the robot C3P0, Carrie Fisher who played the princess, and Peter Mayhew who played the Wookie, Chewbacca, are shown during a break from the filming of a television special presentation in Los Angeles © ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE - In this Oct. 5, 1978 file photo, actors featured in the "Star Wars" movie, from left, Harrison Ford who played Han Solo, Anthony Daniels who played the robot C3P0, Carrie Fisher who played the princess, and Peter Mayhew who played the Wookie, Chewbacca, are shown during a break from the filming of a television special presentation in Los Angeles The actor's co-stars wrote lovingly of Mayhew following Thursday's announcement.

"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," wrote co-star Mark Hamill on Twitter. "I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him."

Gallery: Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca in 'Star Wars': A life in photos (USA Today)


"Devastated to hear about the passing of a dear friend and mentor," wrote Suotamo on Twitter, reflecting on how Mayhew helped him become Chewbacca. "He was an absolutely one-of-a-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivaled class and I will miss him."

Peter Mayhew in Star Wars The Force Awakens. © Shutterstock Peter Mayhew in Star Wars The Force Awakens. Billy Dee Williams, who worked closely with Mayhew on both Empire and Jedi, said the late actor was "Much more than Chewie to me...My heart hurts…I will miss you my dear friend…thanks for the great memories!"

In the last decade of his life, Mayhew began publishing books aimed at younger audiences. His first book: Growing up Giant was meant to show children that being different should be seen as a strength. In his second title, My Favorite Giant advocated against bullying.

Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford in Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope . © Shutterstock Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford in Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope . A private memorial for exclusively friends and family will take place on June 29. A more public, fan memorial is expected to happen during early December in Los Angeles at the Star Wars convention, Empire Con LA. Mayhew’s family will be in attendance of both memorials. Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and their three children.

Gallery: People we lost in 2019 (Photo Services)



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