In Depth

Five things you didn’t know about Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew

Star Wars veteran was known to billions of fans as Han Solo’s Wookiee sidekick

Peter Mayhew, who portrayed Chewbacca in five Star Wars films, has died at the age of 74.

The London-born actor died at his home in Texas on Tuesday, his agent announced in a statement. He is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children.

Mayhew was the man behind Chewbacca, Han Solo’s loyal Wookiee sidekick, a role that he played from his first appearance in 1977’s A New Hope until 2015’s The Force Awakens. But here are five facts you may not know about Mayhew’s life and career.

He was 7ft 3in tall

Viewers would be forgiven for thinking that Chewbacca’s towering height in the Star Wars films was the result of cinematic trickery, but Mayhew was actually as tall as he appeared on screen.

His extreme height was the result of Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition affecting the connective tissue, resulting in a tall, thin frame and long, bony hands and feet. Some medical historians have speculated that Abraham Lincoln had the condition.

He did not set out to become an actor

Mayhew was working as an orderly at King’s College Hospital in London when a film producer who had spotted him in a newspaper article about men with big feet offered him a role as a minotaur in the 1977 film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Verge reports.

He then returned to his day job - but not for long. “One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also creating the Wookiee costume, and he suggested me to the producers of Star Wars,” he said in an interview.

The film’s casting directors had been struggling to find an actor tall enough to tower over 6ft 6in David Prowse, who had been cast as Darth Vader, and quickly decided to give Mayhew the role.

He wrote two children’s books

As well as his on-screen roles and frequent appearances on the convention circuit, Mayhew also penned two fantasy books for children.

Growing Up Giant and My Favorite Giant, which he wrote with his wife Angie, were inspired by his own childhood experiences of living with a physical difference.

His lightsaber cane got him in trouble with airport security

In his later years, Mayhew suffered from knee pain and often used a cane modelled after the lightsabers wielded by Star Wars heroes and villains.

In 2013, he was stopped by security guards at Denver International Airport, who took issue with his unusual walking stick and reportedly attempted to confiscate it, says Time. Officials relented when Mayhew began tweeting about the hold-up, and finally let him board his flight with his “lightsaber”.

“Giant man need giant cane… small cane snap like toothpick,” he explained on Twitter after the incident, adding: “Besides, my lightsaber cane is just cool.”

He acted as a tutor for his replacement

As Mayhew reached his 70s, his physical health had begun to decline - and for 2015’s The Force Awakens it was decided that he should share the role of Chewbacca with Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo.

For 2017’s The Last Jedi and Han Solo spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story, he handed over the on-screen role entirely to Suotamo, becoming the franchise’s official “Chewbacca consultant”. Suotamo has paid tribute to his Chewie mentor in a heartfelt post on Instagram.

“Studying the character he helped create was always a daunting task, but one that was made easier by his tutelage and kindness as we sought to bring Chewbacca to life for a new generation,” he said, describing Mayhew as an “absolutely one-of-a-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivalled class”.

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