'Star Wars' actor Peter Mayhew dies at the age of 74, family says

Mayhew was surrounded by family in his North Texas home.

May 2, 2019, 8:18 PM

Peter Mayhew, the actor best known for playing Chewbacca in the "Star Wars" films, has died at the age of 74, his family said.

In a statement posted on the actor's twitter page, the family said Mayhew died on April 30, "with his family by his side in his North Texas home."

Mayhew died of a heart attack, a family spokesperson told ABC News.

Peter Mayhew, left, as Chewbacca and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in a scene from "Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope."

"Star Wars" co-star Mark Hamill called Mayhew "the gentlest of giants" and said he's "a better man for just having known him."

Actor Harrison Ford, who performed side-by-side with Mayhew for many of the films, said Mayhew "invested his soul in the character and brought pleasure to the Star Wars audience."

“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character. 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," Ford said in a statement.

"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 it’s 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…." the statement continued.

The 7-foot-4 Mayhew starred as Chewbacca in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, one of the prequels and more.

“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," "Star Wars" creator George Lucas said in a statement.

Eventually, the icon gave way to Joonas Suotamo, who has carried on the legacy Mayhew started more than 40 years ago. Suotamo has consistently thanked Mayhew for making Chewie a beloved household name among fans of the franchise and beyond.

Last year, the Finnish actor spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the advice his mentor gave him before taking over for "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

"We had a week-long Wookiee boot camp where Peter taught me what he thought was very important for the character," he said. "That was so helpful, because we got to go over the flailing of the arms and the upright posture. The thing that stuck to me most was he told me to lead with the chest when walking. That was a very important thing for Peter. Because Chewbacca is a very proud creature."

"He put his heart and soul into the role," his family added. "It showed in every frame of the films ... the 'Star Wars' family meant so much more to him than a role in the films."

Peter Mayhew attends the "Solo: A Star Wars Story," film premiere in Los Angeles, May 10, 2018.
Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

This was never more evident than when Mayhew and the rest of the cast lost Carrie Fisher in 2016.

He cherished working with his dear friend one last time in 2015's "The Force Awakens."

"She brought her character back, and in the last one, she was an older person. Therefore, she was wiser," he told told ABC News affiliate WFAA. "She was a person that was a true princess."

Suotamo posted on Twitter that he was "devastated" to hear about Mayhew's death.

For three decades Mayhew traveled the convention circuit, loving every second of every encounter with fans and castmates, Thursday's full family statement continued.

"He grew great strength from the energy of his family, friends and the fans he knew and loved," the statement closed.

Mayhew had been using a wheelchair for years due to his extreme size and weakness in his bones. Family spokesman Ryan Ziegler said when "The Force Awakens" was in pre-production, Lucasfilm representatives made a courtesy call to say they were going to hire a new actor to take on Chewbacca’s scenes.

At the time, Mayhew had just had double knee-replacement surgery but desperately wanted to again play the part he’d made famous. In order to get into shape, Ziegler said Mayhew underwent physical therapy and exercise training, three hours every day for four months. That regimen got him out of the wheelchair and walking again, and healthy enough to play the cockpit scenes in “The Force Awakens."

Memorial plans are set for June 29 and there will be a memorial planned later this year in Los Angeles for the fans.

The actor is survived by his wife Angie and their three children.

ABC News' Clayton Sandell contributed to this report.

ABC News and Lucasfilm are both part of parent company Disney.

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