Star Wars Actor David Prowse, the Original Darth Vader, Dies at 85

While James Earl Jones provided the voice for the iconic villain, it was Prowse who gave Darth Vader his unmatched physical menace

David Prowse
David Prowse. Photo: Mirrorpix/Courtesy Everett Collection

David Prowse, the English actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died. He was 85.

The bodybuilder-turned-actor, who also appeared in the Stanley Kubrick classic A Clockwork Orange, passed away after a brief illness, his agent Thomas Bowington told the BBC. Prowse announced in 2014 that he had dementia and has also battled prostate cancer, according to The Washington Post.

Bowington shared the sad news to the world on social media, writing on Twitter, "It is with great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and millions of fans around the world, to announce that our client DAVID PROWSE M.B.E. has passed away at the age of 85."

Star Wars legend Mark Hamill added his own homage, describing Prowse as "a kind man & much more than Darth Vader."

"So sad to hear David Prowse has passed," Hamill wrote in tribute shared on social media. "Actor-Husband-Father-Member of the Order of the British Empire-3 time British Weightlifting Champion & Safety Icon the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him. #RIP"

In his own tribute, Daniel Logan, who played bounty hunter Boba Fett in Star Wars: Episode II Attack Of The Clones, said that Prowse could now "be one with the Force!"

"Sad to hear of the passing of a #StarWars family member," he added on social media. "RIP Dave Prowse. Darth Vader wouldn't be the same without you in the costume. We had many fun times & laughs at cons together over the years. Glad to have been able to call you a friend. Rest now and be one with the Force!

"RIP David Prowse," wrote The Mandalorian star Carl Weathers in another post. "That stature contributed so much to Darth Vader’s legend. #BePeace."

While James Earl Jones voiced Vader's iconic lines, it was Prowse, wearing the villainous black mask and helmet in the original Star Wars trilogy, who gave Vader his unmatched menace.

Curiously, when first approached by director George Lucas, Prowse was given a choice between playing Vader and Chewbacca. "I'd like to offer you one of two parts in the movie," Lucas asked Prowse, the late actor once revealed in a BBC Bristol Radio interview.

'The first one's a character called Chewbacca, which is like a hairy gorilla that goes through the film on the side of the goodies," Prowse recalled Lucas telling him. In reply, Prowse said he thought, "Oh no, three months in a gorilla skin!"

As for why he chose the villain, Prowse told the director, "Think back on all the movies you've ever seen where there are goodies and baddies. You always remember the baddy."

David Prowse
David Prowse.

In his 2011 biography Straight From The Force's Mouth, Prowse explained his choice still left him in an uncomfortable and concealing costume. The Bristol native didn't realize his face would not appear onscreen but instead would be concealed behind the fiberglass mask, helmet, and 40 lbs. of leather.

"I was virtually blind and the heat generated by the suit... traveled straight into the mask," he wrote about filming inside Vader's iconic costume, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "This immediately misted up the eyepieces which was inconvenient, to say the least."

Prowse's fix? To "look down through the triangular cut-out beneath the mask's nose molding and use it as a spyhole."

Away from the Star Wars universe, Prowse was a successful bodybuilder who competed against and became friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hulk star Lou Ferrigno. His attention turned to acting when he was asked to portray Frankenstein's Creature in the 1967 Bond send-up Casino Royale and later reprised the role twice in Hammer horror films.

Besides acting, Prowse served as the physical trainer for Christopher Reeve during his 'Superman' bulk-up as well as training Vanessa Redgrave and Daniel Day-Lewis.

To a generation of British children, he will also forever be loved as the 'Green Cross Code Man' for his role in a hugely successful road safety campaign in the 1970s. The role also earned him an MBE in 2000 on the Queen's Millennium Honors List.

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