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David Prowse, Darth Vader Actor in ‘Star Wars,’ Dead at 85

Hulking actor donned iconic costume in original Star Wars trilogy

David Prowse, the hulking British actor who gave menacing physicality to Darth Vader in 'Star Wars,' has died at the age of 85.

Thierry Zoccolan/AFP

David Prowse, the hulking British actor who gave menacing physicality to Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died at the age of 85.

Prowse died following a short illness Saturday, his agent confirmed to the BBC. “It’s with great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and million of fans around the world, to announce that our client Dave Browse M.B.E. has passed away at the age of 85,” Bowington Management later tweeted. Prowse’s official website added, “It has been an absolute pleasure working with this wonderful man over the years. He truly was a gentle giant, and one of the kindest celebrities you could ever meet.”

“So sad to hear David Prowse has passed,” Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke Skywalker in the films, tweeted. “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.”

C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels wrote, “Dave has gone. I don’t think 3PO ever faced Vader’s mighty presence on set, other than as a bag of bits on [Chewbacca’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.”

Prowse, who stood 6’6,” was a bodybuilder and weightlifting champion before his towering physique brought him to the attention of casting agents who often cast him in villain roles or as Frankenstein’s Monster. In 1971, Prowse had a bit part in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange as the bodyguard Julian.

That role – which required Prowse to lift weights and carry Malcolm McDowell’s Alex down a flight of stairs – put the actor on the radar of director George Lucas, who was preparing to shoot his film Star Wars in London.

During casting, Lucas allowed Prowse to choose between two roles: Chewbacca or Darth Vader, with the actor opting for the villain role. While Prowse played Darth Vader on screen, James Earl Jones notably provided the Sith Lord’s voice, even though that wasn’t the initial plan during the film’s production.

“I did the voice all the way through the movie. And I kept on saying to Lucas, ‘What are we going to do the voice,’ and it’s obviously no good for reproduction. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to the sound studios and re-record all your dialogue in the sound studio properly,” Prowse told Film Fad in 2016.

According to Prowse’s version of the events, when production ended and Lucas returned to America – the film was largely shot at a London studio – the director realized he forgot to re-record Prowse’s dialogue. Since flying Prowse to Hollywood would add further expense to the tightly budgeted film, Lucas instead recruited Jones for the voice role. “I think [Jones] did a lovely job, but I think I could have done equally well given the opportunity,” Prowse said.

(In Lucas’ audio commentary for Star Wars, he admits that Orson Welles was his top choice to voice Darth Vader. Also, as Carrie Fisher told Rolling Stone in 1980, “Whenever Darth Vader came in, a lot of the scenes were funny, because he was physically depicted by David Prowse, this muscle man from Cornwall or Devon. And ’cause he had this Devon farmer’s accent, we used to call him Darth Farmer!”)

Prowse returned to the Vader role for both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, although Prowse’s inability to convincingly do battle with light sabers forced him to share the Vader suit with fight choreographer Bob Anderson. When Vader is finally unmasked at the end of Return of the Jedi, British actor Sebastian Shaw, as Anakin Skywalker, is the one who converses with Luke Skywalker.

Between the addition of Jones, Shaw and Anderson and Prowse’s accidental 1978 reveal that Darth Vader might be Luke Skywalker’s father, the actor left the trilogy on ill terms with Lucas. While Prowse remained a fixture at fan conventions, he never rejoined the Star Wars family and was “barred” from the annual Star Wars Celebration.

Prowse would later don the Vader costume for promotional appearances but for the Star Wars prequels, Hayden Christensen, who portrayed Anakin Skywalker in the second and third prequel films, wore the trademark suit for the villain’s lone appearance.

In 2015, Prowse appeared in a pair of Star Wars-related documentaries, Elstree 1976 and I Am Your Father, with the latter allowing Prowse to relive the Star Wars scenes he relinquished to other actors.

In October 2016, Prowse revealed he would not longer appear on the Star Wars circuit. “It is with great sadness that I announce that, as of today, I will no longer be attending international shows. I have had a wonderful time meeting so many incredible fans from countries all over the world. I truly thank each of you for your support and the opportunity to meet so many of you,” Prowse wrote on his official site. “May the force be with you.”

From Rolling Stone US