Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in 'Star Wars,' dies at 74 | News Coverage from USA

Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in ‘Star Wars,’ dies at 74

Peter Mayhew, the legendary actor best known for playing Chewbacca in the “Star Wars” films, has died at 74. 

Mayhew’s family announced on Twitter Thursday that the London-born actor died Tuesday: “He left us the evening of April 30, 2019 with his family by his side in his North Texas home.”

Lucasfilm also confirmed Mayhew’s death to USA TODAY.

“He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca,” his family wrote. “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.”

Mayhew played the iconic Wookiee in five “Star Wars” films, including the original trilogy and most recently in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

“He fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the family’s statement continued. “He also consulted on (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) in an attempt to teach his successor.”

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“To him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film,” his family said. 

Mayhew’s death comes just days before Star Wars Day on May 4. 

In a statement, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas called Mayhew “a wonderful man.  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.”

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy added that she, too, was “deeply saddened” by Mayhew’s death.

In a statement, she said, “Since 1976, Peter’s iconic portrayal of the loyal, lovable Chewbacca has been absolutely integral to the character’s success, and to the ‘Star Wars’ saga itself. When I first met Peter during ‘The Force Awakens,’ I was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle nature. 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.”      

Fellow original “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill paid tribute to Mayhew on Twitter Thursday, calling him “the gentlest of giants” and “a big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile and a loyal friend who I loved dearly. I’m grateful for the memories we shared and I’m a better man for just having known him.”

Billy Dee Williams, who co-starred alongside Mayhew in “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” tweeted that he was “much more than Chewie to me… …. My heart hurts….I will miss you my dear friend.”

Mayhew acted as a key mentor to Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who appeared in a few “Force Awakens” scenes as the furry hero. Mayhew couldn’t walk well on the set because he was still recovering from a pair of knee replacements, and Suotamo took over the Chewie mantle permanently in 2017’s “The Last Jedi.”

Suotamo told USA TODAY in 2017 that Mayhew joked he was “too skinny” to be a Wookiee. “Peter’s always been very dear to the fans and he talked about the mind-set of Chewie, how he’s loyal to his pilot – things that might be obvious to someone but they require underlining,” Suotamo recalled. “It was definitely important that I heard it from Peter. Then I was able to see the priority of keeping Chewie as he is.”

In June 2018, Mayhew announced on Twitter that he underwent spinal surgery to improve his mobility. “It’s been a success & I’ll be spending the upcoming weeks recovering. A big thank you to the doctors, staff, my family & friends that have helped me through this,” he wrote. 

He is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children. 

Contributing: Brian Truitt

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