Peter Mayhew, the actor who played the towering Wookie Chewbacca in several Star Wars movies, has passed away.
Mayhew's family delivered the news of his passing in a statement on his official Facebook page. He died Tuesday at his home in Boyd surrounded by his family, according to the statement.
Mayhew was 74.
He is survived by his wife Angie and three children. The family says a private memorial service for friends and family will be held on June 29 and a public memorial service for his fans will be in Los Angeles sometime in early December at the fan convention EmpireConLa.
He was also scheduled to appear this weekend at the Fan Expo Dallas convention for photo opportunities, autographs and a live Q&A with his fans. Convention officials announced on Facebook that his autograph booth will remain open and have a memorial book where fans can write thoughts and messages in honor of his memory.
Mayhew was born on May 19, 1944, in Barnes, Surrey, in the U.K, where he was also raised. Producer Charles H. Schneer discovered Mayhew in the London hospital where he worked as an attendant in 1976 and cast the 7-foot-plus tall actor in his first uncredited film role as a giant robotic creature called the Minoton in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, according to Variety.
The following year, director George Lucas cast Mayhew in the role of Chewbacca, the Wookie sidekick to space-smuggler-turned-hero Han Solo, in the 1977 film Star Wars: A New Hope. The film's blockbuster success created one of the biggest movie franchises in Hollywood history, and Mayhew would reprise the role in three more films directed by Lucas including The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. He returned to the role in 2017 in The Force Awakens directed by J.J. Abrams, despite health issues that left him unable to stand without difficulty.
"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," the family's statement read. "But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film."
Mayhew moved to Texas, first in Granbury and then to his home in Boyd, after marrying his wife Angie in 1999. He continuously toured to conventions all over the country and the world to greet his fans and discuss his work in the Star Wars films. He made an appearance at the massive Star Wars Celebration gathering in Chicago in mid-March.
Mayhew also founded the nonprofit charity The Peter Mayhew Foundation to help adults and children in need all over the world. The organization is "devoted to the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life's traumatic events," according to the foundation's official website.
Fans as well as fellow Star Wars cast members continue to post condolences on Mayhew's online channels as well as their own, including actor Mark Hamill who played Luke Skywalker in the first three Star Wars films.
"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," Hamill posted on his Twitter page. "I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him."
Convention organizer and emcee and family friend Mark Walters of Dallas says he knew Mayhew and his wife Angie for the last 20 years. He got to first know the couple in an airport while they were both on their way to the annual Star Wars Celebration gathering. He and Mayhew would often work and travel together for live Q&As at conventions all over the world and spend time together outside of the convention circuit such as for some of the Mayhew family's New Year's Eve parties at their home in Boyd.
"When I would see him in his home in Boyd surrounded by his family and living almost the farm life as it were, it felt very bright," Walters says. "He seemed like just right at home and enjoyed being where he was. I always enjoyed moments of seeing him away from the hustle and bustle of conventions."
Fan Jason McNally of Dallas first met Mayhew at the Dallas Comics Show in 2015 along with his family and continued to see and converse with the friendly actor and his family at other con gatherings. He says every interaction with Mayhew is a positive and upbeat memory.
"I don't think there was a single person he was ever rude to," McNally says. "He was very jovial, kind, very friendly and outgoing. My experience with him was he was someone who you'd want to have dinner with and his relationship with his wife and daughter was very loving."
Walters says Mayhew made the move to Texas in 1999 so Angie could be close to her family. He soon became one of the most familiar and friendliest faces in the DFW con community and a "true Texan" who embraced his beloved home.
"He decided to move for love and spend all his time with her," Walters says. "He never once had any aspirations to try and move away. Once he became a Texan, he was a full fledged Texan in every possibly way."
Traveling took its toll on Mayhew in his later years. Walters says he enjoyed visiting new places and conversing with fans but his height could make flying from place to place a challenge especially after a surgery to alleviate pain in his knees. Mayhew was often seen walking across convention floors with a custom lightsaber cane before he chose to get around in a wheelchair when walking became too difficult.
For the last year or so, Mayhew had to cut back on his traveling, Walters says.
"He had issues with some surgery on his knees and he was trying to improve his mobility," he says. "When you're that tall and as you get older, that kind of thing deteriorates over time. I know it was getting harder and harder for Peter to travel, including all the headaches of getting on a plane."
Walters says he still tried to make it to as many shows as he could because he genuinely enjoyed being at conventions and meeting his fans of every age.
"I would just really like for people to know that someone like Peter with all the challenge he had in life, you're talking about a guy who could not have had an easy life and for him to be able to come from his humble beginnings and be a part of something so culturally important and iconic and to be able to celebrate that with fans, I think that's a really special thing," Walters says. "I feel extremely fortunate to be able to get to know him on a personal level and spend time with him and say thank you for his work."
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