HARRISON Ford and Mark Hamill have led the tributes to Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew after he died aged 74.
The 7ft 3in actor, who played the iconic Wookiee in five Star Wars movies, passed away “with his family by his side” on Tuesday.
Harrison Ford, who portrayed Han Solo in the franchise, paid a heartbreaking tribute to his co-star Peter Mayhew[/caption]
Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the iconic film series, remembered his co-star as the “gentlest of giants”.
He tweeted: “A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile and a loyal friend who I loved dearly.
“I’m grateful for the memories we shared and I’m a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete #RIPPeterMayhew #Heartbroken.”
Harrison Ford, who portrayed Han Solo in the franchise, paid a heartbreaking tribute to his Millennium Falcon co-pilot, saying: “I loved him”.
“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
Fellow co-star Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian in Star Wars, tweeted: “Much more than Chewie to me.
“My heart hurts…I will miss you my dear friend…thanks for the great memories! #RIPPeterMayhew #StarWars.”
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.”
Mayhew’s family has not revealed what the cause of his death was.
He played Chewbacca in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Revenge Of The Sith (2005) and The Force Awakens (2005).
During filming of The Force Awakens Mayhew shared his role with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo.
His family said: “Peter was the man behind the mask of Chewbacca in the original Star Wars triology, episode 3 of the prequels and the New Triology.
“He fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
“He also consulted on The Last Jedi in an attempt to teach his successor.
“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.
Harrison Ford paid a heartbreaking tribute to his Millennium Falcon co-pilot, saying: ‘I loved him’[/caption]
“But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in the film.”
Mayhew got the role in the original Star Wars film after creator George Lucas needed a tall actor to play hairy alien Chewbacca.
David Prowse, who was 6ft 6ins, was originally in the frame but chose instead to play Darth Vader.
Lucas discovered Mayhew, who was chosen purely for his height.
Mayhew, from Surrey, was born with Marfan syndrome – a connective tissue disease that caused his great height.
He had undergone spinal surgery last July to try and improve his mobility.
Mayhew was much loved on the Star Wars convention circuit and wrote two books “Growing Up Giant” and “My Favourite Giant”.
A statement said: “We are so very sad to have to inform you all that Peter Mayhew who was Chewbacca in the Star Wars films passed away last night at his home in Texas.
“Peter was a real gentle giant and a very quiet, shy and beautiful person! A one-off!
“The Chewbacca role was more Peter playing himself on screen and the question of how much of Peter is Chewie and how much of Chewie is Peter will never be worked out as they really were one and the same.
“Peter loved playing Chewbacca as he could put away his shyness and become a roaring Wookiee when he needed to be.”
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He used his fame to support charitable work, ultimately setting up the Peter Mayhew Foundation to support a variety of causes.
That work will continue under the leadership of his wife, Angie.
Mayhew is also survived by his three children.
A memorial service for family and friends is planned for June 29, and a memorial for fans will take place in December at EmpireConLA.
His family said: “As he grew older he continued to ‘soldier on’ as he put it and was completely in his element around fans and supporters.
“He grew great strength from the energy of his family, friends and the fans he knew and loved.”
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