Harrison Ford, George Lucas pay tribute to Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew, dead at 74

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Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, left, and Harrison Ford as Hans Solo in the original 1977
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, left, and Harrison Ford as Hans Solo in the original 1977

Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in Star Wars, has died at the age of 74.

In a statement on Twitter, his family said he died on April 30 at his home in Texas.

They 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."

Mayhew, who was 7ft 3ins and British, played Wookiee warrior 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).

He became a naturalised US citizen in 2005 and is survived by his wife, Angie, and his three children.

Peter Mayhew at the "Star Wars-The Force Awakens" European Premier in Leicester Square, London 16 December 2015 - Credit:  Heathcliff O'Malley
Peter Mayhew at the "Star Wars-The Force Awakens" European Premier in Leicester Square, London 16 December 2015 Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

The family's statement added: "He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it 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.

"But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.

"The relationships that began then grew into the friends and family that he would love for decades to come. As the films released and became more well known, he had his eyes opened to the possibilities of what he could achieve with his role in the Star Wars universe.

"For more than 30 years Peter travelled all over the world spending time with fans and friends. Peter developed lifelong friendships with the other cast members and his fans while on the convention circuit touching the lives of millions."

Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, and Peter Mayhew during a break from the filming  - Credit: AP
Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, and Peter Mayhew during a break from the filming Credit: AP

Mayhew later became involved in charities including Wounded Warriors, Make-A-Wish and 501st Legion, his family said.

A memorial service will be held for friends and family on June 29 while in December a memorial will be set up for fans in Los Angeles.

The family asked fans to make donations to the Peter Mayhew Foundation.

Mayhew got the role in the original Star Wars film after creator George Lucas needed a tall actor to play hairy alien Chewbacca.

David Prowse, who was 6ft 6ins, was originally in the frame but chose instead to play Darth Vader.

Lucas discovered Mayhew, who was chosen purely for his height.

Mayhew did not reprise his role in 2017's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but is listed in the credits as a Chewbacca consultant.

His death has prompted tributes from his Star Wars colleagues and co-stars. Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill called him "the gentlest of giants – a big man with an even bigger heart."

"Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character," said Harrison Ford, who played Chewbacca's fellow pilot in the Milennium Falcon space-ship, Han Solo. "These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca. We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him...  I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all."

The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson said: "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."

Star Wars creator George Lucas said: “He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature … and I learned to always let him win. He was a good friend and I’m saddened by his passing.”