5 little-known facts about Peter Mayhew in Star Wars

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 10: Actor Peter Mayhew attends the world premiere of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” in Hollywood on May 10, 2018. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 10: Actor Peter Mayhew attends the world premiere of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” in Hollywood on May 10, 2018. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney) /

Perhaps the most iconic sidekick in cinema, Chewbacca the Wookiee, has come to be everyone’s favorite walking carpet. Behind the hair and makeup, however, is the man who played the friendly giant for 40 years.

The late Peter Mayhew, despite not having any screen time without heavy prosthesis, was the embodiment of Chewie. Here are 5 things you may not have known about the loyal companion’s actor.

1. His remarkable height was the result of a genetic disorder

Peter Mayhew experienced a condition called gigantism, which causes a person to grow extremely tall as the result of high levels of growth hormones in their body. The greatest extent of his height was recorded at 7 feet and 3 inches (or 2.21 meters). Mayhew experienced a variety of medical conditions as a result of his exceptional height and even had double knee replacement surgery prior to resuming his role for the filming of 2015’s The Force Awakens. When not using his wheelchair, Mayhew would often make use of a cane in the shape of a lightsaber.

2. He had never acted before Star Wars

Prior to appearing in A New Hope, Mayhew had never acted professionally. In fact, he had a different job altogether. Before the role of Chewbacca took over his life, Mayhew was an orderly at a hospital in Surrey, England. He even remained at his job while filming the original trilogy and would not leave the role until after production had wrapped up. Mayhew had appeared in another film in the same year the original Star Wars released called Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, but was not credited for his work.

3. He came close to never playing Chewbacca at all

Originally, the role of the famous Wookiee had been obliged to a different actor of great height: None other than David Prowse himself, who of course played Darth Vader in the original trilogy (but did not provide his voice). After George Lucas decided to give the villain’s role to Prowse, the search for a new Chewbacca resumed and Mayhew was eventually cast. Neither actor would have the chance to hear their own voices as the characters they played.

4. He didn’t make the iconic Wookiee noises

Mayhew often makes convincing Wookiee-like noises in interviews and at his many convention appearances. However, the audio that is heard in the final edits of the films is actually the growls of a brown bear in the San Diego Zoo as recorded by Ben Burtt, the sound designer for much of the franchise’s iconic noises. There were also the calls of dogs, lions, badgers and even bats to complement the array of cries heard from the character.

5. As soon as George Lucas saw him, Mayhew was cast instantly

Mayhew recalls his first encounter with Lucas as he was waiting to be interviewed for the role. As soon as Mayhew stood up to greet the director, Lucas was taken aback by Mayhew’s impressive height and cast him on the spot without question. So sure was Lucas of his choice for the man behind the fuzzball that he even had his new actor fitted for the costume the very same day. It was certainly meant to be.

Mayhew sadly passed away on April 30 in 2019, at his home in Boyd, Texas, at the age of 74.

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