The 7-foot-3 actor appeared as the friendly Wookie in the original “Star Wars” film by George Lucas in 1977. He went on to reprise the fan-favorite role in “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Revenge of the Sith” and “Force Awakens” films. He passed the baton to Joonas Suotamo for the role in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “The Last Jedi” and the upcoming “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Despite his retirement, the heart and soul of Chewie will always be tied to Mayhew, and the force was strong online as tributes to the man behind the myth accumulated.
“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character,” Harrison Ford said in a statement to Variety. “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 it’s 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.”
“Peter was a wonderful man,” “Star Wars” creator and Lucasfilm founder George Lucas said in a statement. “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.”
“Star Wars” star Mark Hamill, who has played Luke Skywalker in nearly every film, said Mayhew was “a big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile.”
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-I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete #RIPPeterMayhew #Heartbroken @TheWookieeRoars pic.twitter.com/8xbq9HEWF2
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) May 2, 2019
Suotamo also shared his grievances over the death of his Chewbacca predecessor. “Peter’s warm welcome when I came aboard as his double in ‘Force Awakens’ meant so much to me,” he said. “An entire ‘Star Wars’ universe grieves over this terrible loss.”
R.I.P 😔 pic.twitter.com/FWRgaOS0Tf
— Joonas Suotamo (@JoonasSuotamo) May 2, 2019
Lando Calrissian (aka Billy Dee Williams) said his “heart hurt” at the lost of his “Star Wars” co-star.
— Billy Dee Williams (@realbdw) May 3, 2019
Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, fondly remembered Mayhew. “Peter was larger than life in so many ways…a gentle giant playing a gentle giant,” he said.
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) May 2, 2019
Other celebrities, like Elijah Wood and Patton Oswalt, shared their reactions.
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. ❤️❤️
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) May 3, 2019
Sad to hear of Peter Mayhew's passing. So long, Chewie, may the force be with you.
— Elijah Wood (@elijahwood) May 2, 2019
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 2, 2019
Attending countless comic conventions throughout his career, the San Diego and New York Comic Cons also remembered the Chewbacca actor.
We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Mayhew. He was our beloved companion in a galaxy far, far, away. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and fans. The force will be with you always, Peter.
— San Diego Comic-Con (@Comic_Con) May 2, 2019
Thank you for bringing Chewbacca to life and giving us years of memories. Rest In Peace, Peter Mayhew. May the Force be with you. pic.twitter.com/lBwy1N3GKS
— New York Comic Con (@NY_Comic_Con) May 2, 2019
Joonas Suotamo On What He Learned From Peter Mayhew: