David Prowse, the towering actor who terrified generations of film viewers when he played Darth Vader in the three original “Star Wars” trilogies, has died at the age of 85.
He died after a brief illness, his agent Thomas Bowington confirmed to NBC News on Sunday morning.
“A constant source of inspiration, encouragement and kindness. A truly and deeply heartbreaking loss for us and millions of fans around the world!” Bowington said in a statement.
“A loving husband, father and grandfather. May the Force be with him always!”
Prowse didn’t provide Vader’s voice – that was James Earl Jones – but his muscular 6-foot-6-inch frame became the epitome of one of the great movie villains.
Born in Bristol, England in 1935, Prowse was a competitive weightlifter before entering show business. From 1962 he won the British heavyweight championship three years in a row. Because of his bodybuilding skills, he became a personal trainer for various movie stars, including Christopher Reeve while preparing for “Superman”.
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Prowse had several minor acting roles as Monsters and Tough Guys before his courtesy hiatus came from Stanley Kubrick’s controversial and violent “A Clockwork Orange” in 1971 in which he played a bodyguard. In the 1970s, he was also known to British children as the face of a television road safety campaign that earned him an MBE, a civic award given by the royal family to recognize contributions to public life.
His most memorable role, however, came when George Lucas starred on Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977.
“George said he could offer me two parts – the first was a hairy gorilla named Chewbacca,” Prowse said told the Bristol Post newspaper on a trip to his hometown in 2009.
“I said I wasn’t too interested because I didn’t want to wear a mask – I wanted to play a role where people could see my face.
“He said the other part was the main villain, and I said, ‘That’s enough’. But I never thought the villain would wear a mask too!”
Prowse toured the world for 40 years attending fan conventions until he retired from public life in 2016 for health reasons.