Friday, May 3, 2019

The Late Great Peter Mayhew

Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars films and related Star Wars projects, died April 30 2019 at the age of 74.

Peter Mayhew was born on May 19 1944 in Barnes, Surrey. His enormous height was not due to gigantism, but instead due to Marfan syndrome. a genetic disorder which affects connective tissue. Mr. Mayhew was working in a hospital in 1976 when he was cast as the Minoton in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). It was shortly thereafter that he was cast as Chewbacca in the movie Star Wars (1977). He would reprise the role in successive Star Wars movies, including Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983), Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005), and Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015). He also reprised the role of Chewbacca on The Star Wars Holiday Special and served as a consultant on Chewbacca for the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He trained his successor, Joonas Suotamo, in playing the character for later Star Wars movies. Over the years he appeared as Chewbacca on several TV shows, including Donny and Marie, The Muppet Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and Glee.

Peter Mayhew also played other roles beyond Chewbacca. He appeared in the films Terror (1978), Yesterday Was a Lie (2008), and Killer Ink (2016). He guest starred on the television shows Hazell, The Kenny Everett Television Show, and Breaking In (on which he played himself). He had a regular role on the TV series Dark Towers.

Peter Mayhew was perfect for the role of Chewbacca, and not simply because of his height. While Chewbacca's well known roars were dubbed in by others later, it was Mr. Mayhew's movements, body language, and his eyes that made the character come alive. As George Lucas said in his tribute to Peter Mayhew following his death, "He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature...."

Of course, if Peter Mayhew was so great as Chewbacca, it was perhaps because he brought so much of himself to the character. Peter Mayhew has always been described as a gentle giant. His co-stars in the Star Wars movies always spoke of his kindness, his gentleness, and his sense of humour, and all of them counted him as a dear friend. Among Star Wars fans he was one of the most beloved  actors in the franchise. What is more, Peter Mayhew loved Star Wars fans back. I have quite a few friends who met Peter Mayhew, and all of them have said that he was the kindest, gentlest gentleman one could hope to meet. I have heard no kinder words spoken of a celebrity than those spoken of Mr. Mayhew.

In keeping with his giving nature, Peter Mayhew supported several charities over the years. He has supported the 501st Legion, the Wounded Warriors Project, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and many others. He founded the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which, in the words of the Foundation itself, is a "nonprofit organization devoted to the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life's traumatic events." The Foundation has worked with many charities over the years, from College Student Ambassador Programs to Toys for Tots. Mark Hamill said of Mr. Mayhew 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." There were few people bigger than Peter Mayhew. There were even fewer with a bigger heart.

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