Peter Mayhew, the actor known to fans worldwide as Chewbacca, the iconic and lovable Wookiee in the Star Wars films, has passed away at the age of 74. Mayhew died Tuesday, April 30, in his North Texas home with his family by his side. The actor’s family shared the tragic news on his official Twitter account Thursday. He is survived by his wife Angie and three children.
A London native, Mayhew was working as a hospital orderly when he was cast as Chewbacca by writer and director George Lucas, who was in need of an actor able to play taller than Darth Vader, according to The Hollywood Reporter. At 7-foot-3, Mayhew was the perfect choice. The actor played Chewbacca in in the original trilogy—Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)—and reprised his role for Revenge of the Sith (2005), and The Force Awakens (2015). Mayhew then passed the torch to Finnish-born Joonas Suotamo for The Last Jedi (2017). Suotamo, a basketball player turned actor, will also portray Chewbacca in the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Mayhew was a fan favorite on the convention circuit, travelling all over the world for over 30 years to meet and spend time with fans. The statement released by his family on Twitter read, “He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films…but, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.” The statement went on to read, “As he grew older he continued to ‘soldier on’ as he put it and was completely in his element around his fans and supporters. He grew great strength from the energy of his family, friends, and the fans he knew and loved.”
Peter Mayhew is also remembered for his support of many nonprofit organizations that help veterans, and families and children in need. He also founded the Peter Mayhew Foundation, a nonprofit “devoted to the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life’s traumatic events. By providing its available resources directly to deserving children and adults in need, we assist numerous charitable organizations in order to promote and boost their effectiveness and provide support where needed.”
Mayhew’s co-stars have released statements not only to express their sorrow about his passing, but to also express just how incredibly kind Mayhew was in life. Mark Hamill tweeted, “He was 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.” Harrison Ford, who played Chewbacca’s co-pilot Han Solo, gave a statement to The Hollywood Reporter shortly after Mayhew’s passing was announced, stating, “Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character,” said the actor. “These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca. 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.”
Mayhew rarely acted in other roles, but he has become such a beloved icon in the Star Wars community that his passing is felt by countless fans across the globe and he will be greatly missed. A private memorial service will be held for friends and family on June 29, and a public memorial for fans will be held in early December in Los Angeles. His family asks fans to consider donating to the Peter Mayhew Foundation rather than sending gifts and flowers.
As a life-long Star Wars fan, I would like to express my deepest condolences to his family. I would also like to give thanks to Mr. Mayhew himself, for everything he has given us, and for being such a big part of not only my life, but the lives of fans all over the world.
Thank you, Peter Mayhew, and may the force be with you.