Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew has been celebrated for portraying Chewbacca underneath “a half ton of yak hair” as tributes were paid following his death.
The film star, who was best known for playing the hairy Wookiee in five films in the hit space opera franchise, died at the age of 74 earlier this week.
Colleagues and friends of Mayhew, including directors Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams, paid tribute to the actor.
Johnson, who directed 2017’s The Last Jedi, tweeted: “RIP Peter Mayhew. To create a beloved character with warmth and humor is a testament to any actor’s spirit. To do it under a half ton of yak hair takes a true legend.”
Mayhew did not reprise his role in The Last Jedi due to ill health, although he worked as a Chewbacca consultant alongside Joonas Suotamo, who took over as the hirsute character.
In a handwritten note shared on Twitter, Abrams, who directed Mayhew in 2015’s The Force Awakens, said: “Peter was the loveliest man… kind and patient, supportive and encouraging.
“A sweetheart to work with and already deeply missed.”
Billie Lourd, the daughter of late Star Wars star Carrie Fisher, shared a number of pictures on Instagram of her mother with Mayhew from their time together working on the original films in the 1970s and 1980s.
She added no caption other than a simple love heart emoji.
John Boyega, who starred alongside Mayhew in The Force Awakens, wrote on Instagram: “The happiness you brought to my life through Chewbacca was always enough but to meet you and experience your amazing heart was even better. Rest in peace Peter.”
In a touching tribute, Mayhew’s co-star Harrison Ford said that they were “partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him”.
The Hollywood star added: “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.”
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, shared a tribute on social media in which he described Mayhew as the “gentlest of giants”, adding that he was “a better man for just having known him”.
George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, said in a statement: “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.”
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said: “We are deeply saddened today by the news of Peter Mayhew’s passing.
“Since 1976, Peter’s iconic portrayal of the loyal, lovable Chewbacca has been absolutely integral to the character’s success, and to the Star Wars saga itself.
“When I first met Peter during The Force Awakens, I was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle nature. Peter was brilliantly able to express his personality through his skilful use of gesture, posture, and eyes. We all love Chewie, and have Peter to thank for that enduring memory.”
Suotamo, who took over the role of Chewbacca from Mayhew – first as a body double in The Force Awakens and later as the lead in 2017’s The Last Jedi and 2018’s A Star Wars Story – wrote on Twitter that he was “devastated to hear about the passing of a dear friend and mentor”.
He added: “Peter’s warm welcome when I came aboard as his double in The Force Awakens meant so much to me.
“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 was an absolutely one-of-a-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivalled class and I will miss him.
“As the entire Star Wars universe grieves over this terrible loss my thoughts and prayers are with his wife Angie and his family and all of the fans whose lives he has impacted.
“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.”
Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company, tweeted: “The @WaltDisneyCo mourns the loss of our beloved #chewbacca portrayer, #PeterMayhew. Peter was larger than life in so many ways… a gentle giant playing a gentle giant. Rest in peace.”
The actor Elijah Wood tweeted: “Sad to hear of Peter Mayhew’s passing. So long, Chewie, may the force be with you.”
Mayhew played Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Revenge Of The Sith (2005) and The Force Awakens (2015).
He died surrounded by his family at his home in Texas on April 30. He is survived by his wife, Angie, and his three children.