Peter Mayhew

Gentle giant Peter Mayhew turned his role as Chewbacca in "Star Wars" (1977) into a full-time job of delighting sci-fi fans. The 7-foot-3 London native was working as a hospital orderly when he began dabbling in acting. He played the Minoton in the Sam Wanamaker-Ray Harryhausen fantasy "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger" (1977). Director George Lucas cast Mayhew in "Star Wars" in large part because he wanted someone taller than David Prowse, the 6-foot-6 actor who was filling the suit of the evil Darth Vader. Covered entirely in fur, Mayhew was the co-pilot to Harrison Ford's roguish pilot, Han Solo. He played the character in the two other legs of the original "Star Wars" trilogy, "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Return of the Jedi" (1983). He added additional roles while filming the sci-fi classics, appearing in the horror film "Terror" (1978) and portraying the Tall Knight on "Dark Towers" (BBC, 1981). He took his responsibilities as Chewbacca seriously, however, and he played the 200-year-old Wookie at every opportunity. He joined with other cast members in appearances on "Donny & Marie" (ABC, 1976-79), "The Muppet Show" (ITV, 1976-81), and the ill-fated "The Star Wars Holiday Special" (CBS, 1978). He still continued working as an orderly throughout the first three "Star Wars" films, but thereafter made a living out of his status as Chewie. He appeared regularly at conventions and quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his generous nature and pleasant personality. He was able to don the Wookie costume for real once again in the final of Lucas' prequels, "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (2005). That kicked off a fresh round of appearances as Chewbacca, with Mayhew popping up on "The Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993-2015) and "Glee" (Fox, 2009-15). He still acted on occasion beyond the "Star Wars" universe, appearing in the indie drama "Yesterday Was a Lie" (2008) and the Christian Slater-Megan Mullally sitcom "Breaking In" (Fox, 2011-12). While he was beginning to struggle physically, he teamed with Ford to play Chewbacca one last time time in J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" (2015). For the next installment, "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Last Jedi" (2017), Mayhew acted as a consultant, passing the Chewbacca torch to former basketball player Joonas Suotamo. The actor made his last on-screen appearance when he starred in the horror film "Killer Ink" (2016). Mayhew passed away at the age of 74 on April 30, 2019.