Peter Mayhew, the actor who portrayed the Wookie Chewbacca in the Star Wars film franchise, has died at his Texas home at the age of 74, his family said on Thursday.
The news was met with an outpouring of condolences on social media, as legions of fans expressed their affection for the man behind the beloved character.
“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 30 April with his family by his side,” his relatives said in a statement.
Born in Surrey, England in 1944, Mayhew had acted in just one film in an uncredited role before he caught the attention of director George Lucas.
Lucas initially had picked bodybuilder David Prowse for the role, but that 1.98m actor instead played villain Darth Vader. A search for an even taller actor to play Chewbacca, Han Solo’s friend, led the director to the 2.18m Mayhew, who was working as a hospital orderly at the time.
Mayhew portrayed the Millennium Falcon co-pilot in all three original films and the 2005 prequel, Revenge of the Sith. Wheelchair-bound after a double knee replacement, he shared the role with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo in 2015’s The Force Awakens. Suotamo has since taken over the role.
Although he has stated that his great height was not the result of gigantism, Mayhew authored two children’s books titled My Favorite Giant and Growing Up Giant, which touch on issues like bullying and being different.
Mayhew became a dual US citizen in 2005. He founded the Peter Mayhew Foundation together with his wife Angie Mayhew, which helps children and adults dealing with the “financial toll” of long-term disease.
He is survived by his wife and three children. The family did not disclose a cause of death, although Mayhew had previously announced that he had undergone extensive spinal surgery in 2018.