Peter Mayhew, the actor most known for climbing inside the suit of Chewbacca for at least five Star Wars films, died peacefully in his sleep April 30. The news was released this afternoon by his family.
Mayhew got his start in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, released in 1976, where he went uncredited. Ironically his biggest role would include a full credit but never his actual face. George Lucas based the Chewbacca character on his hairy Alaskan Malamute dog — the Wookiee was to be the tallest character in Luke’s ensemble, and Mayhew — who measured seven-foot-two — fit the bill.
Mayhew played Han Solo’s strong sidekick throughout the original trilogy, an unmentionable holiday special, and minor appearances in the prequels. And yes, Mayhew was the one who gave Chewie his signature “groooooowlrghgh.”
By the time The Force Awakens was under production, Mayhew was wheelchair-bound. Despite health complications, he found the strength to play Chewie whenever it was possible, and on the days when it wasn’t, he trained actor Joonas Suotamo to take his place. Suotamo took over the role officially in The Last Jedi, played Chewbacca again in Solo and will appear once more in The Rise Of Skywalker this December.
Mayhew’s cast members shared their grief — and their fond memories of working with him — on social media following the news of his passing.
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 #RIPPeterMayhew #Heartbroken @TheWookieeRoars pic.twitter.com/8xbq9HEWF2
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) May 2, 2019