Days before his 75th birthday, and mere weeks before the 42nd anniversary of Star Wars, one of its leading lights has gone out of the world.
Peter Mayhew, the 7-ft.-2-in. British actor whose name is forever synonymous with Chewbacca the Wookiee, died this week at the age of 74. He passed away at his home in Boyd, Texas.
Mayhew’s family announced via the actor’s popular Twitter account, @theWookieeRoars.
Mayhew was working as a hospital orderly in 1976 when an American director named George Lucas came to London looking to cast the role of Chewbacca, a 7-foot-tall hairy mashup of the Lucas family dog and Planet of the Apes, in his upcoming space fantasy film. Mayhew had only to stand up like a gentlemen to greet him before Lucas gave him the part.
Over the course of the original Star Wars trilogy, Mayhew’s quirky movement — including what his family affectionally called his “knock-kneed running” — made Chewie come alive for millions. He reprised the role, briefly, in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. By the time The Force Awakens was announced, Mayhew was in a wheelchair in need of a knee operation — but he was determined to play Chewie one more time.
Thanks in part to donations from fans, Mayhew had the operation. He was standing in the famous Wookiee suit when Harrison Ford uttered the soon-to-be-immortal line, “Chewie, we’re home.”
Mayhew was for years the most warm-hearted and generous soul to Star Wars fans at conventions, embracing his role in our hearts with as big of a hug as you’d expect. I’ve personally asked him, and heard others ask, the same questions many times over. He never replied with anything less than a generous full-length answer. And he was a proud supporter of the stormtroopers-for-charity organization, The 501st Legion.
Fans the world over took to Twitter to share their sorrow at the news. “Peter Mayhew,” “Chewbacca” and “Chewie” dominated the trending terms, with more than 100,000 tweets just in the half-hour following the announcement.
Even though Chewbacca never got that medal he deserved, the Star Wars movies wouldn’t have been the same without him – Star Wars Day on Saturday should be dedicated to the memory of Peter Mayhew, who made us all fall in love with a Wookie – May The Force be with him. #RIP
— Phillydude (@Fairwinds10) May 2, 2019
Peter Mayhew’s thoughtful mannerisms and soulful eyes transformed a “big, walking carpet” into Star Wars’ most huggable character. He’s one of the reasons the saga continues to endure after 42 years. Thank you, and godspeed, mighty Chewbacca. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/eOTMY5oQbk
— Justin Bolger (@TheApexFan) May 2, 2019
Coming on the heels of Carrie Fisher’s death in late 2016, the news was more than many fans’ hearts could bear.
Chewbacca, of course, lives on. In The Last Jedi and the upcoming Rise of Skywalker, he is played by Finnish basketball star Joonas Viljami Suotamo — who worked closely with Mayhew on The Force Awakens to mimic his style down to the furry head-tilt.
Star Wars was so lucky to find a worthy successor in Joonas Suotamo, who I think is absolutely wonderful in the role. But Suotamo always took pains to emphasize whom he’d learned from, and how kind Mayhew had been as a mentor.
— Jason Fry (@jasoncfry) May 2, 2019
Rest in peace, Peter. The Force of fandom will be with you, always.