Actor Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in 'Star Wars' saga, dead at 74

Actor Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in 'Star Wars' saga, dead at 74

Actor Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in Star Wars saga, dead at 74

Actor Peter Mayhew, who won over fans worldwide as the Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in the blockbuster "Star Wars" movies, has died at the age of 74, his family announced on May 3.

Mayhew died on April 30 at his home in Texas, surrounded by loved ones, the family said in a statement released on the actor's Twitter account.

"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," the statement said. "But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more than a role in a film. The relationships that began then grew into the friends and family that he would love for decades to come."          

 The towering British-born actor, the son of a policeman who measured 2.21 meters, was working as a hospital attendant in London when he was discovered by film producer Charles Schneer.

He was first cast in the film "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger," in an uncredited role. But he then was cast in the role that would define his career -- as the co-pilot and best friend of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in the original "Star Wars" film released in 1977.  He would go on to appear in "The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi" and "Revenge of the Sith."          

The family said he had "fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'."       

He then worked to coach his successor in the role, Joonas Suotamo, the family statement said.

Co-star Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke Skywalker in the iconic films, was quick to pay tribute to 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."          "I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him," Hamill wrote on Twitter.

Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children.

The family said a memorial service would be held on June 29 and a memorial for fans would take place in early December in Los Angeles at Empire Con, an event for "Star Wars" fans.