Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford lead tributes to Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew
Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew has been remembered as a “big man with an even bigger heart” following his death at the age of 74.
British-American actor Mayhew played Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in the revered fantasy series of films, appearing in five movies, most recently 2015’s The Force Awakens.
His family announced his death on Thursday, and said he died at his home in Texas on April 30 surrounded by loved ones.
Shortly after the news broke, Mayhew’s fans and former co-stars paid tribute.
Harrison Ford, who played the character of Han Solo, praised him for his “great dignity and noble character”.
In a statement to the Press Association, Ford said: “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.”
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, shared a tribute on social media in which he described Mayhew as the “gentlest of giants”.
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, also paid tribute.
In a statement, he said: “Peter was a wonderful man. 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 was a good friend, and I’m saddened by his passing.”
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy also commented. She said: “We are deeply saddened today by the news of Peter Mayhew’s passing.
“Since 1976, Peter’s iconic portrayal of the loyal, lovable Chewbacca has been absolutely integral to the character’s success, and to the Star Wars saga itself.
“When I first met Peter during The Force Awakens, I was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle nature. Peter was brilliantly able to express his personality through his skilful use of gesture, posture, and eyes. We all love Chewie, and have Peter to thank for that enduring memory.”
Joonas Suotamo took over the role of Chewbacca from Mayhew, first as a body double in Force Awakens and later as the lead in 2017’s The Last Jedi and 2018’s A Star Wars Story.
Writing on Twitter, he said: “Devastated to hear about the passing of a dear friend and mentor, the great Peter Mayhew.
“Peter’s warm welcome when I came aboard as his double in The Force Awakens meant so much to me.
“Studying the character he helped create was always a daunting task, but one that was made easier by his tutelage and kindness as we sought to bring Chewbacca to life for a new generation.
“He was an absolutely one-of-a-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivalled class and I will miss him.
“As the entire Star Wars universe grieves over this terrible loss my thoughts and prayers are with his wife Angie and his family and all of the fans whose lives he has impacted.
“Rest assured his legacy will live on and the spirit that he gave the character when he first donned the suit will never be forgotten.”
Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company, wrote on Twitter: “The @WaltDisneyCo mourns the loss of our beloved #chewbacca portrayer, #PeterMayhew. Peter was larger than life in so many ways… a gentle giant playing a gentle giant. Rest in peace.”
The actor Elijah Wood tweeted: “Sad to hear of Peter Mayhew’s passing. So long, Chewie, may the force be with you.”
The San Diego Comic-Con Twitter account also shared a message of tribute.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Mayhew,” it said.
“He was our beloved companion in a galaxy far, far, away. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and fans. The force will be with you always, Peter.”
Mayhew died surrounded by his family at his home in Texas on April 30. He is survived by his wife, Angie, and his three children.