The first “Star Wars” movie came out in 1977, which means many of the film’s stars are aging or have passed in 2021. Cancer, particularly pancreatic cancer, has taken the lives of a few “Star Wars” insiders over the years. However, many other cast and crew from the long-running franchise passed from another serious ailment: a heart attack. There are multiple types of heart attacks that can affect a person. According to Harvard Health, the term “heart attack” is a general shorthand for what is more properly known as a myocardial infarction.
A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood is interrupted to part of the heart muscle. This lack of blood causes damage to the area, because the blood that is transporting oxygen can’t get to the cells that need it. When blood flow is partially blocked, as opposed to fully obstructed, the damage can be more severe, even if there isn’t much pain. According to Cedars-Sinai, 1 out of every 3 people who experience a heart attack have no chest pain whatsoever.
In the “Star Wars” universe, several notable names have passed away after experiencing fatal heart attacks. Here’s what you need to know.
Chewbacca Actor Peter Mayhew Died of a Heart Attack in 2019
The super-tall actor Peter Mayhew famously played the role of “Chewbacca” in the “Star Wars” franchise, until he was replaced by younger actor Joonas Suotamo. The Guardian‘s 2019 obituary of Mayhew listed a heart attack as his cause of death. According to the BBC, Mayhew first came to the attention of film producers after he was photographed while working at a local hospital as an orderly. A local reporter snapped a photo of Mayhew, simply because of his towering height, and that photo was later seen by producers of the film “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger”. This gave Mayhew his break into the film industry, with a role in “Star Wars” coming his way not long after.
Peter Mayhew stood 7’3″ in his prime, and it’s possible that extra height meant extra strain on his cardiovascular system. According to Science Daily, a University of Pennsylvania study found that taller people had an increased risk for developing atrial fibrillation. This condition can lead to heart failure. The actor passed away about a year after having spinal surgery. Reuters has noted that there is evidence that heart attacks and strokes are both possible after surgery, even when the surgery in question didn’t involve the heart.
Potentially further complicating the health of the aging actor was a pre-existing condition called Marfan Syndrome. According to Empire, Mayhew was treated for an overactive pituitary gland in his teenage years, in addition to having Marfan syndrome. According to the Marfan Foundation website, Marfan Syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects the tissues in the human body. According to the foundation, “Some Marfan features – for example, aortic enlargement (expansion of the main blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body) – can be life-threatening.”
‘Star Wars’ Actor Declan Mulholland Died of a Heart Attack in 1999
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) May 6, 2016
Declan Mulholland played one of the most iconic characters in “Star Wars”, but due to constraints of time and budget that meant his role was initially cut from the trilogy, most fans can’t recognize him. Mulholland played Jabba the Hutt in the first “Star Wars” film. In the original theatrical release, the role of Jabba was cut from the final print. In the first film, Jabba was also a humanoid character, rather than the monstrous puppet fans see in “Return of the Jedi”. This made the character cheaper to film, since no complicated puppet needed to be constructed.
Scenes where Mulholland plays a humanoid Jabba were filmed and survive as deleted scenes. They can be viewed online. By the time “Return of the Jedi” rolled around, the “Star Wars” creative team had opted for the Jabba we all know and love. Later, when Lucas created the “Special Edition” versions of the original trilogy, a CGI Jabba was added into “A New Hope”, which looked more like the version of the character fans had come to know from “Return of the Jedi”.
The Guardian cited a heart attack as Mulholland’s cause of death in his obituary. Other roles listed on Mulholland’s IMDB page include a role in Terry Gilliam’s cult classic “Time Bandits” and a recurring role on UK police drama “The Bill“.
‘Return of the Jedi’ Director Richard Marquand Died in 1987
— Star Wars (@starwars) July 31, 2016
‘Return of the Jedi’ director Richard Marquand’s death has been variously reported as a stroke and a heart attack. According to Wales Online, the director “died at 49 of a stroke and heart attack”. Den of Geek also lists both fatal events as causes of death in an interview with Marquand. However, the New York Times report on Marquand’s passing only made mention of the stroke, and not the heart attack. Heavy has reached out to Lucasfilm for comment, and to clarify Marquand’s cause of death.
Richard Marquand’s son, James, spoke with the BBC about his father’s “Return of the Jedi” legacy. He told reporters there was a “fair bit of bitterness” among his family members whenever “Star Wars” fans are critical of his father’s “Star Wars” contributors. “When I think back to my dad’s involvement, I’m massively proud of him,” James Marquand told the BBC. “I do think he delivered. His role was was to deliver a film on time and on budget and get performances out of the actors.”
In addition to directing “Return of the Jedi”, director Richard Marquand is also known for film projects with deep ties to the pop music community. He directed the biopic “Birth of the Beatles“, which explored the rise of the Beatles during their formative years. Marquand’s final film, “Hearts of Fire“, also had a musical bent. The film starred Bob Dylan as fictional musician Billy Parker, but didn’t impress critics. Time Out called the film a “half-baked rock’n’roll fable”.