Death of Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew at 74

The Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew has been remembered as a “kind and gentle man” and the “gentlest of giants” by his co-stars Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill following his death aged 74.

Peter Mayhew, who has died at the age of 74, and Harrison Ford

The British-American actor, who was 7ft 3in, was known for playing Chewbacca in the sci-fi films, the hairy Wookiee character who was a sidekick to Ford’s Han Solo.

Mayhew died at his home in Texas, his family said. He had lived in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley for around 13 years from 1987, although he was born in Surrey,

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He appeared in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Revenge Of The Sith (2005) and, most recently, The Force Awakens (2015).

From left: Harrison Ford who played Han Solo, Anthony Daniels who played the robot C3P0, Carrie Fisher who played the princess, and Peter Mayhew who played the Wookie, Chewbacca, during a break from the filming in 1978

Ford, who starred alongside Mayhew in four of the films, said in a statement: “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.”

Ford starred as Han, the cynical smuggler and close friend of Chewbacca. Together, the pair piloted the Millennium Falcon.

Ford added: “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.”

Luke Skywalker actor Hamill described Mayhew as “the gentlest of giants” in a post on Twitter.

He added: “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.”

George Lucas, creator of Star Wars said in a statement that Mayhew “was a wonderful man” and a “good friend”.

“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 added.

Mayhew landed the role in the original Star Wars film after creator Lucas needed a tall actor to play hairy alien Chewbacca.

David Prowse, who was 6ft 6in, was originally in the frame but chose instead to play Darth Vader.

Lucas discovered Mayhew, who was chosen purely for his height.

He did not reprise his role in 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but is listed in the credits as a Chewbacca consultant.

Mayhew’s family said: “He put his heart and 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.

“But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.

“The relationships that began then grew into the friends and family that he would love for decades to come. As the films released and became more well known, he had his eyes opened to the possibilities of what he could achieve with his role in the Star Wars universe.

“For more than 30 years Peter travelled all over the world spending time with fans and friends. Peter developed lifelong friendships with the other cast members and his fans while on the convention circuit touching the lives of millions.”

Mayhew later became involved in charities including Wounded Warriors, Make-A-Wish and 501st Legion, his family said.

In Keighley, he was a supporter of the local rugby union club and made appearances as Chewbacca to raise money for charity. He left the town for Texas after marrying his wife, Angie. After living in the US for six years, he became an American citizen in 2005. She survives him, along with his three children.

A memorial service will be held for friends and family on June 29 while in December a memorial will be set up for fans in Los Angeles.