Peter Mayhew, original Chewbacca actor from 'Star Wars,' dies at 74

Peter Mayhew, original Chewbacca actor from 'Star Wars,' dies at 74

Peter Mayhew, the actor best known for playing Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died at 74.

That actor's family released a statement on his Twitter account on Thursday: "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."

George Lucas cast Mayhew, who stood 7 feet 3 inches tall, to play the 200-year-old Wookie Chewbacca in 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope. The character was a fan favorite, providing the perfect companion to Harrison Ford's reckless, cocky pilot Han Solo. Mayhew reprised the role in several more Star Wars movies, including The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Star Wars Holiday Special, Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens.

In the statement, his family noted that Mayhew faced challenges while filming 2015's The Force Awakens.  "He fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more," they wrote. They added that he "consulted" on 2017's The Last Jedi.

"[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," his family wrote. "But to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film."

Mayhew was born in Barnes, Surrey in 1944, and was discovered by a movie producer while working as a hospital attendant. While he described himself as a giant, his towering height was not actually the result of giantism.  "I don't have the big head,'' he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014. "There was an overactive pituitary gland ... I had treatment when I was about 15 that slowed it down, they stopped it.''

Without that treatment, he said, "'I'd have been eight foot. Life would have been terrible."

Over his four-decade career, Mayhew appeared as Chewbacca on popular TV shows, like Donnie and Marie, The Muppet Show and Glee. At comic book conventions, he was a regular figure, taking photos with fans. He also wrote two books for children, Growing Up Giant and My Favorite Giant.

Of course, the world will always remember Mayhew for playing the gentle giant, Chewbacca. At the end of A New Hope, Princess Leia gives heroes Luke Skywalker and Han Solo gold medals, but not the beloved Wookie - a point of contention for many Star Wars fans. When asked by Australia’s BMag why Chewie didn’t get a medal, he said:

"I think it was one of two reasons. One, they didn’t have enough money to buy me a medal. Or two, Carrie couldn’t reach my neck, and it was probably too expensive to build a little step so that I could step down or she could step up and give me the medal."

On social media, Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, mourned his friend and co-star. "He was the gentlest of giants," tweeted Hamill. "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."