In Memoriam: Peter Mayhew (1944-2019)
Well this one just makes me want to Wookie howl with grief.
Star Wars fans everywhere today mourn the loss of one the foundational characters of the original trilogy. Peter Mayhew who played the Wookie Chewbacca has passed away at the age of seventy-four, less than a month away from his seventy-fifth birthday. Mayhew died due to a heart attack on Monday at his home in Boyd, Texas.
Born in Surrey London in 1944, Mayhew liked to joke that all he had to do was stand up to get the role of Chewbacca, however that’s quite literally what happened. Working as an orderly in the radiology department at King’s College Hospital at the time Star Wars was in pre-production, Mayhew learned about the casting call for the film. He was sitting on the couch when George Lucas and Gary Kurtz walked in. The 7’3″ Mayhew stood up and George immediately said, “I think we’ve found him.”
The rest as they say is history. Mayhew went on to portray Chewbacca in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith, and The Force Awakens before having to retire due to health issues. Interestingly enough, Mayhew was actually up for both the role of Chewbacca AND Darth Vader but ultimately chose Chewie because he wanted to play a hero.
Over the years, Mayhew would be involved in other non-Star Wars projects including the films Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Yesterday was a Lie, and Killer Ink.
Known as a kind and gentle soul to those who knew him, Mayhew was able to convey real heart and pathos in the character of Chewbacca just through his eyes. Though Joonas Suatamo took over the role when Mayhew stepped down, to me there will always be one Chewbacca and that’s Peter Mayhew.
Rest in peace gentle giant. The Star Wars community and world at large is a little dimmer today without you in it.