HEARTFELT tributes have been pouring in for Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars saga, after his death at the age of 74.
The 7'2" (2.18m) Briton passed away at his home in Texas on April 30 with his family at his side, a statement released last night said.
Mayhew came to fame playing Han Solo's loveable Wookiee sidekick Chewie in 1977's original Star Wars film, before going on to don the furry suit in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, 1983's Return of the Jedi, 2005's Revenge of the Sith and 2015's The Force Awakens.
The London-born star also consulted on 2017's The Last Jedi and last year's Solo: A Star Wars Story, as he handed over the baton of everyone's favourite 'walking carpet' to his successor Finland's Joonas Suotamo.
Harrison Ford, who worked closely with Mayhew as his Millennium Falcon co-pilot Han, said the duo’s unique bond extended well beyond the silver screen.
Harrison Ford statement on the passing of Peter Mayhew. pic.twitter.com/heDmZR61VZ
— Clayton Sandell (@Clayton_Sandell) 3 May 2019
In a statement, Ford said: "Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed great dignity and noble character.
"We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him. He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience.
"Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together. He knew how important the fans of the franchise were to its continued success and he was devoted to them.
"I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all. My thoughts are with his dear wife Angie and his children. Rest easy, my dear friend."
Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill described Mayhew as "the gentlest of giants".
He was the gentlest of giants-A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly-I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete #RIPPeterMayhew #Heartbroken @TheWookieeRoars pic.twitter.com/8xbq9HEWF2
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) 2 May 2019
Hamill tweeted: "A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly - I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him."
Billy Dee Williams, who will reprise his role as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker later this year, also paid tribute to Mayhew on Twitter.
Williams wrote: "Much more than Chewie to me...My heart hurts…I will miss you my dear friend…thanks for the great memories!"
— Billy Dee Williams (@realbdw) 3 May 2019
Star Wars creator George Lucas originally intended to cast 6'6" British actor David Prowse as Chewbacca, but 7'2" Mayhew was chosen instead after Prowse opted to play Darth Vader instead.
Mayhew was born with Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder which caused his immense height. The actor underwent a double knee replacement in 2013 and was forced to step down as Chewie after portraying him one last time in Episode VII upon the franchise's triumphant return in December 2015.
"He fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens," his family said.
A memorial service for friends and family will be held on June 29 and a separate memorial for fans will take place in December, their statement confirmed.
Mayhew's passing follows the deaths in 2016 of Princess Leia star Carrie Fisher and R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker.
He is survived by his wife Angie and three children.