David Prowse, the towering actor who terrified generations of movie-watchers as playing Darth Vader in the three original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, has died aged 85.
He died after a short illness, his agent Thomas Bowington confirmed to NBC News Sunday morning.
“A constant source of inspiration, encouragement and kindness. A truly and deeply heart wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world!” Bowington said in a statement.
“A loving husband, father and grandfather. May the force be with him, always!”
Prowse did not provide Vader’s voice — that was James Earl Jones — but his muscular 6-foot-6-inch frame became the embodiment of one of the great movie villains.
Born in Bristol, England, in 1935, Prowse was a competitive weightlifter before entering showbusiness, winning the British heavyweight lifting championship three years in a row from 1962. His bodybuilding prowess led him to become a personal trainer to various screen stars, including Christopher Reeve while he was preparing for ‘Superman.’
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Prowse had several minor acting roles as monsters and tough guys before his break came courtesy of Stanley Kubrick’s controversial and ultra-violent ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in 1971, in which he played a bodyguard. He was also well known to British children in the 1970s as the face of a road safety TV campaign — which earned him an MBE, a civil honor awarded by the royal family to recognize contributions to public life.
But his most memorable role came as George Lucas was casting for 1977’s ‘Star Wars: A New Hope.’
“George said he could offer me two parts — the first was a hairy gorilla called Chewbacca,” Prowse told the Bristol Post newspaper on a trip to his home city in 2009.
“I said I wasn’t too interested because I didn’t want to wear a mask — I wanted to play a part where people could see my face.
“He said the other part was the central villain and I told him, ‘That will do’. But I never realized the villain would also be wearing a mask!”
Prowse toured the world visiting fan conventions for 40 years, until his retirement from public life in 2016 due to ill health.
Prowse’s co-stars led tributes to him Sunday, including Mark Hammill, who played Luke Skywalker.