Peter Mayhew, the actor who originated the role of Chewbacca in the Star Wars franchise, died on Tuesday at his home in Texas. A spokesperson for the family told ABC News that the cause of death was a heart attack. At 7 feet, 3 inches tall, Mayhew towered over castmates Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher in the original Star Wars in 1977, and he continued to play the role on film and television for nearly 40 years. He “studied bears, monkeys, gorillas and other animals with traits reminiscent of a Wookiee” to prepare to play the furry alien.
Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo, who worked as Mayhew’s body double on The Force Awakens, officially took over as Chewbacca beginning with The Last Jedi. “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 in a statement after news of Mayhew’s death broke. “He was an absolutely one-of-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivaled class and I will miss him […] Rest assured his legacy will live on and the spirit that he gave the character when he first donned the suit will never be forgotten.”
Star Wars creator George Lucas said, “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.” Harrison Ford, who as Han Solo often played hero to Mayhew’s sidekick, also issued a statement to the Hollywood Reporter:
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.
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 its 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.
Other actors and filmmakers throughout the Star Wars galaxy took to social media to remember Mayhew. We’ve rounded up the best tributes below and will update this post with additional ones as they come in.