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    Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in ‘Star Wars’ films, dies at 74

    Peter Mayhew at the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images/File 2015
    Peter Mayhew at the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

    LOS ANGELES — Peter Mayhew, the towering actor who donned a huge, furry costume to give life to the rugged-and-beloved character of Chewbacca in the original ‘‘Star Wars’’ trilogy and two other films, d ied at his home in North Texas on Tuesday, according to a family statement. He was 74. No cause was given.

    As Chewbacca, known to his friends as Chewie, the 7-foot-3 Mr. Mayhew was a fierce warrior with a soft heart, loyal sidekick to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon.

    Mr. Mayhew went on to appear as the Wookiee in the 2005 prequel ‘‘Revenge of the Sith’’ and shared the part in 2015’s ‘‘The Force Awakens’’ with actor Joonas Suotamo, who took over the role in subsequent films.

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    ‘‘Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character,’’ Ford said in a statement Thursday. ‘‘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.’’

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    Mr. Mayhew defined the incredibly well-known Wookiee and became a world-famous actor for most of his life without speaking a word or even making a sound — Chewbacca’s famous roar was the creation of sound designers.

    ‘‘He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films,’’ the family said. ‘‘But, to him, the ‘Star Wars’ family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.’’

    Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker alongside Mr. Mayhew, wrote on Twitter that he was ‘‘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.’’

    Born and raised in England, Mr. Mayhew had appeared in just one film and was working as a hospital orderly in London when George Lucas, who shot the first film in England, found him and cast him in 1977’s ‘‘Star Wars.’’

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    Lucas chose quickly when he saw Mr. Mayhew, who liked to say all he had to do to land the role was stand up.

    ‘‘He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature . . . and I learned to always let him win,’’ Lucas said in a statement.

    From then on, ‘‘Star Wars’’ would become Mr. Mayhew’s life. He made constant appearances in the costume in commercials and at public events.

    20th Century Fox
    Chewbacca

    His height, the result of a genetic disorder known as Marfan syndrome, was the source of constant health complications late in his life. He had respiratory problems, his speech grew limited, and he often had to use scooters and wheelchairs.

    His family said his fighting through that to play the role one last time in ‘‘The Force Awakens’’ was a triumph.

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    After he retired, Mr. Mayhew served as an adviser to his successor Suotamo, a former Finnish basketball player who said last year that Mr. Mayhew put him through ‘‘Wookiee boot camp’’ before he played the role in ‘‘Solo.’’

    Mr. Mayhew spent much of the last decades of his life in the United States, and he became a US citizen in 2005.

    The 200-plus-year-old character who wore a bandolier with ammunition for his laser rifle was considered by many to be one of the hokier elements in the original ‘‘Star Wars,’’ something out of a more low-budget sci-fi movie.

    The films themselves seemed to acknowledge this.

    ‘‘Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?!’’ Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, says in ‘‘Star Wars.’’

    But Chewbacca would become as enduring an element of the ‘‘Star Wars’’ galaxy as any other character and his roar — which according to the Atlantic magazine was made up of field recordings of bears, lions, badgers, and other animals — became famous.