LOS ANGELES – British film actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars saga, has died at the age of 74, his family said on Thursday.
“The family of Peter Mayhew, with deep love and sadness, regrets to share the news that Peter has passed away,” the family wrote on Mayhew’s official Twitter account.
“He left us the evening of April 30, 2019 with his family by his side in his North Texas home,” the family added, without providing any details of the cause of his death.
Mayhew lived with his family in Boyd, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth.
The actor – who stood 2.18 meters (7 ft. 2 in.) tall – was born in London in 1944 and would have turned 75 on May 19.
He charmed Star Wars fans by playing the hairy, endearing and courageous Wookiee Chewbacca, the inseparable companion of space adventurer Han Solo – played by Harrison Ford.
Chewie, as Solo called him in the film series, communicated by grunts, growls and whines – the Wookiee language – that seemingly only Solo could understand and was the co-pilot of Solo’s iconic spaceship, The Millennium Falcon.
The hirsute character was one of the most charismatic of all those in the science-fiction space opera saga conceived by George Lucas.
Mayhew played Chewbacca in the three original films in the ongoing franchise: “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977); “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “The Return of the Jedi” (1983).
He returned to reprise his role in “The Revenge of the Sith – Episode III” (2005), which closed the second trilogy released in the saga, and in “The Force Awakens – Episode VII” (2015), the last of the third trilogy of films.
Due to his chronically bad knees, however, in the 2015 film Mayhew spent much of his time offscreen in a wheelchair, while a Finnish actor – Joonas Suotamo, a former basketball player – took on much of the active acting duties.
Mayhew’s family said that the actor worked tirelessly to overcome his mobility problems.
“The Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film,” his family said. “The relationships that began then grew into the friends and family that he would love for decades to come.”
He was a beloved regular for many years at Star Wars fan conventions all around the world.
In 2015, he described how special it was for him to pair up again with Ford for Episode VII, “The Force Awakens,” characterizing his off-screen relationship with the US actor as like “a marriage.”
“We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him,” Ford said in a statement. “He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience. I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all.”
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, also paid tribute to his former co-star, calling him “the gentlest of giants.”
“He was (...) a big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile,” Hamill said. “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.”
Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children, and the family has said that there will be a private memorial service for him on June 29, although no further details of that service have been announced.