Peter Mayhew, the man behind the original Star Wars Chewbacca character, died at 74 years old on April 30. His family confirmed the death on Thursday evening, ET, via Twitter.
Mayhew’s cause of death is unknown. He is survived by his wife, Angelique Mayhew, and their three children.
Mayhew’s family’s statement reads in part,
The family of Peter Mayhew, with deep love and sadness, regrets to share the news that Peter has passed away. He left us the evening of April 30, 2019, with his family by his side in his North Texas home…there will be a memorial service for friends and family on June 29th and in early December in Los Angeles there will be a memorial for fans set up with his family in attendance, personal effects, and collection at EmpireConLA.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Mayhew Family Has Suggested Donations to the Peter Mayhew Foundation in Lieu of Flowers
Mayhew’s family has asked friends, family, and fans alike to consider donating to the foundation Mayhew started, rather than sending gifts and flowers. According to the site, the Peter Mayhew Foundation is “a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life’s traumatic events. By providing its available resources directly to deserving children and adults in need, we assist numerous charitable organizations in order to promote and boost their effectiveness and provide support where needed.”
Because of the foundation’s wide-reaching forms of charity, the site provided a number of examples of ways in which it has worked to towards these goals:
Peter’s celebrity is something that can bring life back to someone who is down and out. That sparkle of joy, shock, happiness in ones eyes when first meeting Peter is what keeps us going. We provide packages of encouragement including autographs and books to sick kids and adults as well as support materials for fund raising efforts on an individual basis and for disaster relief. Through Peter’s books we are able to show the world and most importantly at risk children that it is okay to be different and encourage literacy by round table book readings. As scheduling allows Peter makes phone and skype calls to those who are home bound or recovering in hospitals and when possible hospital or family support visits.
We are a catalyst to bring together many Organizations: Pop Culture and Comic Conventions, Groups: 501stStormtroopers, Rebel Legion, Star Fleet, and celebrities. By joining forces these efforts focus on those in need to provide a better life.
Many times the Make a Wish Foundation selects a terminally ill child to make a visit to places such as Disneyland. Unfortunately, many charitable organizations are under funded and the beneficiaries such as these are limited. These trips typically include travel, accommodations and entrance fees to the awarded locations. When possible The Peter Mayhew Foundation steps in and provides extra funds for items such as meals, refreshments, souvenirs etc for the beneficiaries so they have an even more memorable trip.
See Also: 11 Funny Star Wars T-Shirts
2. Mayhew Was Discovered by a Producer While Working as a Hospital Attendant in London
According to Variety, Mayhew was first “found” by producer Charles H. Schneer while he was working as a hospital attendant in London. By the following year, he’d won the role of Chewbacca for the Star Wars series.
Mayhew, who was 7’3 at his tallest, almost lost the role to body builder George Prowse; Variety reports that George Lucas preferred Prowse, but eventually Prowse was given the role of Darth Vader, and Mayhew snagged the job that would define his career.
3. Mayhew Did Not Perform the Famous Chewbacca Noises; He Is Credited for the Wookie’s Expressive Eyes & Signature Movements
Mayhew was not the one who provided the famous Chewbacca noises. Rather, he is credited with giving life to the figure itself, within the expressive emotion he offered through his gaze alone, as well as through his physical movements.
4. Mayhew Retired From His Pivotal Role After The Force Awakens in 2015
Mayhew played the role of Chewbacca in five Star Wars films, before he retired in 2015: the original trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He also played Chewbacca in a 1978 made-for-TV Star Wars Holiday Special.
Mayhew battled health problems at the end of his career. Per BuzzFeed News, a family statement reads in part, “He fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He also consulted on The Last Jedi in an attempt to teach his successor.”
5. Celebrities & Fans Across the World Are Mourning Mayhew on Twitter
Following the news of Mayhew’s death, fans and fellow actors immediately began to mourn the literal film giant.
William Shatner tweeted, “I am so sorry to hear about Peter. We had so many fun and memorable tweets back and forth over the years plus seeing each other at a convention here and there. My deepest condolences to his family. He will be sorely missed!”
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the series, wrote, “He was the gentlest of giants-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
#RIPPeterMayhew #Heartbroken @TheWookieeRoars”
Harrison Ford, who also starred alongside Mayhew in the series, also released a statement, which read:
“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character. These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca. We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him. He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience. Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together. He knew how important the fans of the franchise were to its continued success and he was devoted to them. I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all. My thoughts are with his dear wife Angie and his children. Rest easy, my dear friend…”