David Prowse, The Actor Who Played Darth Vader In The Original Star Wars Trilogy, Dies At 85

The English actor had the choice of playing Chewbacca or Darth Vader in the original 'Star Wars' trilogy.

Star Wars actor Dave Prowse has died aged 85.

The former bodybuilder played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy after being cast due to his imposing 1.98m physique, although the iconic role was actually voiced by James Earl Jones.

Thomas Bowington, his agent, said: "May the force be with him, always! Though famous for playing many monsters — for myself, and all who knew Dave and worked with him, he was a hero in our lives."

Bowington added that Prowse's death — which followed a short illness — was a "truly and deeply heart-wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world".

Prowse's acting career spanned more than 50 years, but he is best known for playing Darth Vader in the iconic sci-fi movies. He also featured in Clockwork Orange and Doctor Who.

The Bistol-born Prowse also enjoyed significant success as an athlete prior to appearing in the Star Wars films, as he represented England as a weightlifter at the Commonwealth Games in the early '60s.

Around this time, he is said to have become close friends with rival bodybuilding competitors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, both of whom subsequently became big stars.

Prowse even served as the physical trainer for the late Christopher Reeve as he prepared to take on the role of Superman.

Prowse got the biggest role of his career when George Lucas approached him for first Star Wars (1977) after seeing his work in Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange.

In a 2016 interview, Prowse recalled, "Lucas said to me, 'You've got a choice of two characters in the movie. 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." 

The Chewbacca role eventually went to Peter Mayhew, who passed away in April 2019. 

Prowse originally recorded Vader's voice but his West Country accent didn't work with Lucas, who had Prowse' vocals replaced by James Earl Jones'. 

"We called him Darth Farmer," Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the films, said during an interview on The Jonathan Ross Show in March 2016.

Prowse wasn't the only the actor to play Vader in the original trilogy. In Return of the Jedi when Vader's masker is removed, moviegoers saw the scarred face of British actor Sebastian Shaw instead. Stuntman/fencing coach Bob Anderson also stood in for Prowse in the lightsabre duels in Episode V and VI.

The weightlifter-turned-actor also earned an MBE for playing the Green Cross Code Man, a role that saw him promote road safety in the UK.

Prowse was the face of British road safety for more than a decade and he became known for his "Stop, look and listen" catchphrase.

He was the subject of a 2015 documentary, I Am Your Father, and a script for an unproduced movie about this life, titled Strongman, appeared on the 2017 Black List.

Prowse, who in his later years did publicity work for Welsh singer Jayce Lewis, was married since 1963 to Norma Scammell and had three children.

Fellow Star Wars stars are among those who have paid tribute to Prowse. The Mandalorian actor Carl Weathers tweeted: "RIP David Prowse. That stature contributed so much to Darth Vader's legend. #BePeace."

Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright described Prowse as the man who "stopped a whole generation of kiddies from being mown down in the street".

He said: "As a kid Dave Prowse couldn't be more famous to me; stalking along corridors as evil incarnate in the part of Darth Vader & stopping a whole generation of kiddies from being mown down in street as the Green Cross Code man. Rest in Peace, Bristol's finest."

Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, wrote on Instagram, "So sad to hear David Prowse has passed. He was a kind man & much more than Darth Vader. Actor-Husband-Father-Member of the Order of the British Empire-3 time British Weightlifting Champion & Safety Icon the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him."

​​​​​​​— BANG

Photos: TPG News/Click Photos

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