Peter Mayhew dead at 74 after decades-long run playing Chewbacca in Star Wars films

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Friday, May 3, 2019
Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew dead at 74
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Peter Mayhew is being mourned by fans, fellow "Star Wars" cast members and the actor who succeeded him as Chewbacca.

BOYD, Texas -- Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in Star Wars, has died, his family announced Thursday. He was 74.

Family members said in a statement posted to Mayhew's Twitter account that the actor died the evening of April 30, 2019, in his North Texas home. No cause was given.

The 7-foot-3 Mayhew played the beloved and furry Chewbacca, sidekick to Han Solo and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, in the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

He went on to appear as the Wookiee in 2005's "Revenge of the Sith" and shared the part in 2015's "The Force Awakens" with actor Joonas Suotamo, who later took over the role.

"He put his heart and his 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.

"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," they continued.

Born and raised in England, Mayhew had appeared in just one film and was working as a hospital orderly in London when George Lucas found him and cast him in 1977's "Star Wars."

"Peter was 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," George Lucas said in a statement to ABC News.

Suotamo took over the Chewbacca role when Mayhew's health prevented him from continuing. Suotamo credited Mayhew as a friend and mentor.

"Obviously it was heartbreaking news," Suotamo said in an interview. "Peter - a long time mentor for me. A dear friend."

"As someone who inherited the torch to carry on, I hope I can make him proud when he's watching us from the stars."

In addition to his work on Star Wars films and television shows, Mayhew's credits include appearances on "Dark Towers," "The Kenny Everett Television Show" and the films "Dragon Ball GT: A Hero's Legacy," "Comic Book: The Movie" and "Yesterday Was a Lie."

Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children.

Family members are holding a private memorial service in June. A public memorial for fans will be held in December in Los Angeles at Empire Con LA. They asked fans to continue to support the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which Mayhew established to "alleviate disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life's traumatic events."

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In this Feb. 10, 2012 file photo, actor Max von Sydow poses at the International Film Festival Berlinale, in Berlin.
AP Photo/Gero Breloer, File

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of Lucasfilm and this station.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.