Peter Mayhew, Actor Who Portrayed Chewbacca in Star Wars, Dies at 74
Peter Mayhew, best known for bringing to life one of cinema’s most beloved characters, Chewbacca, has died. He was 74.
The actor’s family released a statement on his official Twitter page on Thursday, writing, “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 statement continued.
Mayhew portrayed Chewbacca in George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, as well as Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.
The actor returned to the role for 2015’s The Force Awakens, with his family saying in the statement, “He fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more.”
Mayhew also “consulted” on The Last Jedi, his family said, putting “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.”
Shortly after news of his death broke, costar Mark Hamill paid tribute to Mayhew whom he described as “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,” Hamill tweeted.
Since Mayhew’s passing, Ford said in a statement to PEOPLE, “Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentleman, possessed of great dignity and noble character.”
“These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca,” the Raiders of the Lost Ark star added. “We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years, and I loved him. 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,” Ford continued. “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.”
Ford finished his statement, writing, “Rest easy, my dear friend….”
The creator behind the entire Star Wars universe, George Lucas, said in a statement, “Peter was a wonderful man. 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.”
“We are deeply saddened today by the news of Peter Mayhew’s passing,” Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, said in a statement to PEOPLE. “Since 1976, Peter’s iconic portrayal of the loyal, lovable Chewbacca has been absolutely integral to the character’s success, and to the Star Wars saga itself.
Kennedy went on to recall the first time she met Mayhew on the set of The Force Awakens, and how she” was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle nature.”
“Peter was brilliantly able to express his personality through his skillful use of gesture, posture, and eyes,” Kennedy added. “We all love Chewie, and have Peter to thank for that enduring memory.”
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In 2015, Mayhew, who was 7’3”, told PEOPLE he enjoyed returning to his iconic role for The Force Awakens saying, “It’s been really, really fabulous.”
He also opened up about returning to his famous rapport with onscreen buddy Harrison Ford, saying, “We were in our trailers in England and there was a knock on the door. It’s Harrison, [saying], ‘Hey buddy. How are you doing? You’ve got to get back in the old suit again, have you?'”
“And a great big hug and everything was back to normal,” Mayhew said.
Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie, and their three children. A memorial service will be held for him on June 29, as well as a memorial service in early December in Los Angeles for fans.
Rather than gifts and flowers, the actor’s family asks fans to consider donating to the Peter Mayhew Foundation.