Little did Peter Mayhew know, when he was cast as the hirsute copilot of the Millenium Falcon in Star Wars, that he would be using his remarkably long legs to step into the history books. Today we honor him on his birthday. The “gentlest of giants”, as Mark Hamill referred to him, would have been 78 years old today.
Peter was a hospital orderly when he was cast to play the iconic role of Chewbacca. He was cast largely because of his great height, coming in at over 7 feet tall. After the release of Return of the Jedi, he continued to make numerous appearances as Chewbacca, working in commercials and visiting sick children. He reprised his role in Revenge of the Sith, and he shared the role with Joonas Suotamo in The Force Awakens. Due to health issues, he retired from the role of Chewbacca after The Force Awakens but stayed on as a Chewbacca Consultant.
Peter was also well known and loved in the fan convention scene, making regular appearances and interacting with fans. He even maintained an active social media presence, especially on Reddit. He was known for dropping encouraging comments to fans.
Our very own staff member Shawn Crosby said “he was as warm, charming, and down to earth as you’d hope he’d be.
Peter Mayhew was born in London, raised in York, and was working as an attendant (orderly) in a London hospital when film producer Charles Schneer discovered him; Mayhew appeared in a newspaper article about men with big feet, and Scheer saw him towering over everyone else. Mayhew stands an astounding 7’3” tall, so he was a natural choice for the role of Chewbacca, which has largely defined his acting career. Mayhew is quoted as saying, “It’s curious that when you look down at people you see their defects, their irregularities more clearly. I like my bird’s-eye view. I think it’s what gives Chewie his pride, his bigness. Bigness of heart.”
Mayhew became a naturalized U.S. citizen, lived in Texas, and founded The Peter Mayhew Foundation, a non-profit which is “devoted to the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life’s traumatic events. By providing its available resources directly to deserving children and adults in need, we assist numerous charitable organizations in order to promote and boost their effectiveness and provide support where needed.”
In addition to his film and charitable work, Mayhew wrote written two books, Growing up Giant, which is a graphic novel about growing up in England just after WWII, and about being a young giant; and My Favorite Giant, which is an illustrated book aimed at younger audiences and it depicts the differences between people as strong points, rather than weaknesses.
We will always remember you, Mr. Mayhew. Wherever you are now, may the Force be with you.
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