The Force is a little weaker in the Star Wars universe today: David Prowse, the actor who physically portrayed Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died. David’s cause of death was a “short illness,” as agent Thomas Bowington told BBC News. In 2018, CNN reported that the actor was being treated for prostate cancer.
“It’s with great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and millions of fans around the world to announce that our client Dave Prowse M.B.E. has passed away at the age of 85,” Bowington Management tweeted on Sunday, Nov. 29.
“May the force be with him, always!” Thomas added. “Though famous for playing many monsters — for myself, and all who knew Dave and worked with him, he was a hero in our lives.”
David chose to play Vader over Chewbacca.
A bodybuilder who represented England at the Commonwealth Games in the early 1960s, David stood at 6-foot-6, and it was his imposing stature that won him the part of the infamous Sith Lord in 1977’s Star Wars, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, and 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars director George Lucas saw David play a muscular manservant in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange and offered the actor a role in his sci-fi epic.
“Lucas said to me, ‘You’ve got a choice of two characters in the movie,” David said in a 2016 interview, per The Hollywood Reporter. “He said, ‘There’s a character called Chewbacca, which is like a huge teddy bear, or alternatively, there’s the main villain in the piece.’ Well, there’s no choice, is there? Thank you very much, I’ll have the villain’s piece.”
On set, however, David realized he’d have to wear a helmet that covered his face, as well as a 40-pound suit made of fiberglass and leather. “Once [the mask] was fitted, I became virtually blind, and the heat generated by the suit obeyed the laws of physics and traveled upward, straight into the mask,” he wrote in his 2005 memoir, Straight From the Force’s Mouth, per THR.
“This immediately misted up the eyepieces, which was inconvenient, to say the least, but was not an insurmountable problem so long as I could look down through the triangular cut-out beneath the mask’s nose molding and use it as a spy-hole.”
David spoke Darth Vader’s lines during filming — with his West Country English accent inspiring costar Carrie Fisher to playfully dub him “Darth Farmer” — but George decided to dub in a voiceover by James Earl Jones during post-production. “I think [James] did a wonderful job, but I still think I would have done equally as well given the right opportunity,” David said.
In addition to his role as Vader, David is also known for playing Frankenstein’s monster in three films and for playing the Green Cross Code man in PSAs about pedestrian road safety. The latter job earned him membership in the Order of the British Empire in 2000.
David’s ‘Star Wars’ colleagues mourned his death on social media.
“So sad to hear David Prowse has passed,” tweeted Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the films. “He was a kind man and much more than Darth Vader. Actor, husband, father, Member of the Order of the British Empire, three-time British weightlifting champion, and safety icon the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him.”
C-3PO portrayer Anthony Daniels tweeted, “Dave has gone. I don’t think 3PO ever faced Vader’s mighty presence on set, other than as a bag of bits on Chewie’s shoulders in the carbon freezer. But Dave’s iconic figure dominated the finished film in ’77 and has done so ever since. And will continue to do so.”