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Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in 'Star Wars,' dies at 74

Chewbacca has been an iconic 'Star Wars' character from the beginning. See why the Wookie has become a fan favorite.

Posted: May 3, 2019 4:30 PM
Updated: May 3, 2019 4:30 PM

Peter Mayhew, the original Chewbacca, has died, according to his agent.

Mayhew, 74, died on April 30 with his family by his side in his North Texas home. He is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children.

The Hollywood icon played Chewbacca in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, episode 3 of the prequels and the New Trilogy, according to a statement from his family.

Mayhew, who once used a wheelchair because of a bum knee, stood tall to portray Chewbacca once more in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." He also consulted on "The Last Jedi" to help teach his successor.

"He put 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," his family said. "But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film."

Mayhew started the Peter Mayhew Foundation to support people in crisis situations, including providing food and supplies for the children of Venezuela during their recent road to freedom.

"His kindness, generosity and care will live on in the Peter Mayhew Foundation with Angie taking the helm as his voice," his family said.

A memorial service for friends and family will be held on June 29. In early December, there will be a memorial in Los Angeles for fans.

Tributes pour in for the 'Star Wars' legend

Just two days before May 4, a day when "May the Fourth" puns run rampant, celebrities and "Star War" fans remember Mayhew as the man who inhabited the Wookie suit dating back to the '70s.

"He was the gentlest of giants," said Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. "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."

Fans shared images of meeting Mayhew at different conventions over the years.

"I am so thankful that Mr. Mayhew found the strength to participate in this year's Star Wars Celebration, even after he had to cancel a day due to health reasons. I was honored that my wife @gokatteego and I could have our picture taken with him. It means so much to us," said Keith Forche, who shared a picture taken on April 13 at the Star Wars Celebration 2019 in Chicago.

Dan Robinson, who met the legend at San Diego Comic Con 2004, said Mayhew brought life to a character no one could understand, other than Han, of course.

"Body movements, head tilts, and expressive eyes. He was such a humble softspoken man that always took time for the fans," he told CNN. "He was my first 'Star Wars' actor I got an autograph from. I was in awe of being 6 foot 2 and watching my hand disappear into his when I shook his hand and thanked him for all he brought to 'Star Wars.' I've been a fan since I was 2 years old when I saw it in 1979 [at a drive-in] for a re-release."

The man behind the 'Chewie' mask

Standing 7 feet and 3 inches tall, Mayhew once said playing Chewbacca transformed him, according to a statement on the "Star Wars" fanchise site.

"The attitude was different," he said about acting in the costume. "The walk was different. Do the scenes, come back, take the mask off, Peter was back."

"Star Wars" first debuted in theaters on May 25, 1977, and ignited a major worldwide fandom.

"Peter was larger than life in so many ways ... a gentle giant playing a gentle giant. Rest in peace," Disney CEO Robert Iger said.

Mayhew's portrayal of the beloved "Star Wars" character was integral to the trilogy's success, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said.

"When I first met Peter during 'The Force Awakens,' I was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle nature," she said. "Peter was brilliantly able to express his personality through his skillful use of gesture, posture, and eyes. We all love Chewie, and have Peter to thank for that enduring memory."

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