Peter Mayhew, who became known to fans worldwide as the lovable Wookiee Chewbacca in the Star Wars galaxy of films, has died. He was 74. Mayhew’s death comes just days before Star Wars Day on May 4th.
The actor died Tuesday in his North Texas home with his family by his side. His official Twitter account shared the news Thursday.
Mayhew 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" (1977) – and was working as a hospital orderly when he tried out for the part of Chewbacca. He got the role based on his physique; writer-director George Lucas was in desperate need of someone who would be able to play taller than Darth Vader. In his prime, Mayhew stood 7-foot-3. After wrapping the first Star Wars, he went back to work as an orderly and did not leave the job for good until the release of Return of the Jedi, after which he made a living off of Chewbacca, becoming a favorite on the fan convention circuit.
Mayhew acted as a key mentor to Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who appeared in a few Force Awakens scenes as the furry hero. Suotamo took over the Chewie mantle permanently in 2017’s The Last Jedi.
A private memorial for Mayhew will take place June 29th, and there will be a gathering for fans at EmpireConLA in December. Mayhew is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children.