Sad news for Star Wars fans around the world today: Peter Mayhew, the English-born actor whose 7-foot-3-inch frame won him the role of Chewbacca, has passed away at his home in Texas. He was a few weeks shy of his 75th birthday.
Mayhew’s family announced the news on his social media accounts that he had died at home on April 30th, with his family by his side. “[T]he Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film,” they wrote in a statement.
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. pic.twitter.com/YZ5VLyuK0u
— Peter Mayhew Foundation (@TheWookieeRoars) May 2, 2019
Mayhew’s height won him the part of the Wookiee co-pilot to Han Solo, but his dedication to the role and love for his fans made him a legend. After he was cast, Mayhew visited the zoo to study bears, primates, and other animals so he could mimic their movements. Chewbacca’s voice was dubbed after filming — a recorded mixture of animal roars and growls from a variety of species — but the heart of the character was all Mayhew.
His towering height came with health costs, as he experienced joint pain and stiffness as he aged, requiring a cane and other mobility assistance, even a wheelchair for some periods and several surgeries. After portraying Chewbacca in the original trilogy and three prequel movies, he reprised the role one last time in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, before finally turning over the job to Joonas Suotamo for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Mayhew served as a “Chewbacca consultant” for The Last Jedi, coaching Suotamo’s performance.
He met his wife, Angie Luker, at a toy convention in 1997, and they married two years later and moved to Texas. Mayhew became a naturalized American citizen in 2005. They had three children.
Mayhew was a well-known fixture on the convention circuit, making frequent appearances as one of the most popular headliner celebrity appearances. I saw him in the early 2000s at a Star Wars event at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT park, and his joy and respect for his fans was evident.
“It’s rather nice,” said Mayhew about the global popularity of Star Wars. “It means that wherever we go in the world, we’ve always got fans there to say hi and be friendly. It’s a great feeling.”
Mayhew also used his fame for a long list of good causes, including supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Wounded Warriors, the 501st Legion, and establishing the Peter Mayhew Foundation, “supporting everything from individuals and families in crisis situations to food and supplies for children of Venezuela during their recent road to freedom.”
Foliow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.