Peter Mayhew, who was best known for playing Chewbacca in the Star Wars films, has died aged 74. The actor, who stood at an impressive 7ft1in, passed away on the evening of 30 April at his Texas home, his family confirmed in a statement on Thursday night. Along with dedicated fans, Star Wars cast members, producers and directors, including J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, have led a ‘universe in mourning’ for a ‘kind and gentle’ friend of the franchise.
An official announcement about Mayhew’s death said: ‘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.’
The British actor had previously undergone spinal surgery in July in a bid to improve his mobility. Mayhew gave life to the character back in 1977, when he appeared in Star Wars: A New Hope. He went on to become a beloved character in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return Of The Jedi (1983), Revenge Of The Sith (2005) and The Force Awakens (2015). The actor was replaced by Joonas Suotamo for later entries The Last Jedi (2017), Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), and the forthcoming The Rise Of Skywalker. They secretly shared the role in The Force Awakens for the more active scenes and in a tribute, Mayhew’s successor Suotamo expressed just how ‘kind’ a mentor he was for stepping into some big shoes.
Cast from the franchise – including Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams – from across the years flooded Twitter with tributes to a ‘gentle giant’ and a ‘kind’ friend. Luke Skywalker star 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.’
Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo alongside Mayhew, released an official statement in dedication to ‘a dear friend’. He said: ‘Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character. ‘These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca. He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience. ‘Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together. He knew how important the fans of the franchise were to it’s continued success and he was devoted to them.
‘I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all. My thoughts are with his dear wife Angie and his children. Rest easy, my dear friend…’ Dee Williams shared the screen with Chewbacca in the early years, playing Lando Calrissian. Having worked together on Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Williams said Mayhew had been ‘much more than Chewie to me’ and said that his ‘heart hurt’. Meanwhile, producer J.J. Abrams penned a handwritten note about Mayhew that read: ‘Peter was the loveliest man…
‘Kind and patient supportive and encouraging. A sweetheart to work with and already deeply missed. JJ.’
Before Star Wars, Mayhew got his first acting job in 1976 when he was cast in Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger as a minotaur. Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children. A memorial service for friends and family will be held on 29 June, while a memorial for fans will take place in early December in Los Angeles.