Peter Mayhew (1944 – 2019)

He and his Wookiee were always winners.

Peter Mayhew has passed away at the age of 74. He is famous for originating the character Chewbacca the Wookiee in the Star Wars films. He played the loyal, lovable furball in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith, and The Force Awakens.

Before playing the alien everyone wanted to hug and have as a co-pilot, Mayhew’s screen debut was in the 1977 film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger as the live action version of the golden Minaton, an automaton of the classic Minotaur. He’s easy to spot as he’s not the stop motion creation animated by Ray Harryhausen.

It’s with Star Wars though that Mayhew found himself idolized and loved for over forty years. After answering a casting call for the film, he stood up to greet George Lucas and Gary Kurtz and was offered the part. Beyond his striking 7’3″ height, Mayhew’s blue eyes made Chewie more than an actor in a mask — he gave the character a soul. Even his movements, shaking his head in fear, rebuilding Threepio, or acknowledging he should win a game, lifted the character beyond the furry suit and into movie history.

He returned to play the Wookiee in the prequel Revenge of the Sith, with the character being known to Jedi Master Yoda, and the sequel The Force Awakens. Joonas Suotamo shared the role with Mayhew in this film, taking over the role for The Last Jedi, though Mayhew is listed as a “Chewbacca Consultant” in the credits.

Mayhew didn’t just perform as the Wookiee in films, he played the character in The Star Wars Holiday Special, The Muppet Show, and the MTV Film Awards in 1997, where Chewie finally got his overdue medal from the battle at the first Death Star. He also visited children in hospitals, who were amazed and gladdened by his character’s appearances.

A frequent guest at conventions, Mayhew is noted by many fans as always being gracious and more than willing to answer any questions about his character from a galaxy far, far away. I met Mayhew in the mid-nineties and he was exactly that.

In addition to Star Wars films, Mayhew can be found in Terror (1978), Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Legacy (Voice actor in the English edition, 2004), and Yesterday Was a Lie (2008).

Mayhew became a naturalized American citizen in 2005. He has been married to wife Mary since 1999 and they have three children. They lived in Boyd, Texas.

Peter Mayhew passed away from a heart attack at his home.

Mark Hamill poster on Twitter: 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. I’m grateful for the memories we shared & I’m a better man for just having known him. Thanks, Pete

Harrison Ford released a statement: 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. Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together. (Peter) 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.

Peter Mayhew is immortalized on film and in the hearts of his fans. He and his Wookiee were, and will always be, winners.

Photo credit: StarWars.com

 

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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