Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in Star Wars, Dies at 74
Actor Peter Mayhew, known for playing Chewbacca in Star Wars films over a period spanning decades, has died.
The actor died April 30 in his North Texas home with family by his side. His official Twitter account shared the news Thursday. He 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 — 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 Lucas was in desperate need to find someone who would be able to play taller than Darth Vader.
While Mayhew did not provide the voice of the 200-year old Wookie (that was created by sound designer Ben Burtt), many credit the body language and the expressiveness of the eyes that actor brought to the role in making Chewbacca a fan favorite.
Finnish-born basketball player turned-actor Joonas Suotamo took over for him 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.
“Chewbacca is one of the most iconic characters in the history of film, and Peter’s development and portrayal of this beloved Wookie has spread so much joy around the globe,” Suotamo wrote after the casting was announced. “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, while in December in Los Angeles there will be a gathering for fans at EmpireConLA. Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.