One of the ‘greatest sidekicks’ in film history, the eight feet tall, hairy and Wookiee bowcaster wielding Chewie actor is no more. Peter Mayhew, who immortalized the adorable Wookiee Chewbacca in the ‘Star Wars‘ franchise, died at 74. Mayhew died on April 30 at his North Texas home, his family confirmed on his official Twitter handle on Thursday. The actor had undergone spinal surgery in July.
“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,” reads the family’s tweet.
Mayhew played the Wookiee Chewbacca, an intelligent race from planet Kashyyyk, from 1977 to 2015. He joined George Lucas’ original trilogy with the first ‘Star Wars’ (1977) and reprised his iconic role in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980), ‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983), ‘Revenge of the Sith’ (2005), and ‘The Force Awakens’ (2015). Though the actor amassed a huge fan base across the globe, he never revealed the real face behind Chewbacca until his retirement with the 2015 ‘Star Wars’ movie. Mayhew handed over the role to Joonas Suotamo, the Finnish actor, who appeared as Chewie in the 2017 movie ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’
Chewie became a darling of the ‘Star Wars’ devotees soon after the character made his debut in the 1977 movie ‘Star Wars.’ Though the character has appeared on several television adaptations, books, comics, and video games, it was Mayhew’s Chewie who collected a fan buzz around him. The character is known as Han Solo’s loyal co-pilot, a skilled mechanic and hero of the Rebel Alliance. Lucas was in a desperate search for a tall actor for his Chewie and discovered Peter Mayhew on a local newspaper. It was a special report about a 7’3″ tall orderly at King’s College Hospital in London who had to duck to walk along the corridors of the radiology department. There was a picture of Mayhew holding a patient in his arms along with the report!
Born in leafy Surrey, England, Mayhew’s acting debut was an uncredited role in the 1977 movie ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.’ Though Mayhew never lent his voice to the 200-year-old Wookiee, he made the character unique with body language and expressiveness of his blue eyes.
Lucas and many ‘Star Wars’ family members expressed their shock about Mayhew’s loss. “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,” said Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo in the franchise, in a statement to THR. “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,” he added.
“Peter was a wonderful man,” Lucas said in a statement “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,” reports Deadline.
“George [Lucas] told me right away it was going to be a mime character because they put the noises on afterwards. It makes it easier for me because just try making loud enough noises through a mask! It’s very hard so you do as well as you can, and then they take it to the sound studio and put their own voices in it. It’s not easy, really,” Mayhew told Rolling Stone in a 2015 interview.
Mayhew lived with his wife, Angelique, at their farm in Boyd, Texas. He has founded ‘The Peter Mayhew Foundation,’ a nonprofit organization.
Cover Image Courtesy: Lucasfilm Ltd.