British actor David Prowse, who portrayed iconic villain Darth Vader in the first three “Star Wars” movies, has passed away at 85.
The sad news was shared by Prowse’s agent, Thomas Bowington. “It’s with great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and millions of fans around the world, to announce that our client Dave Prowse MBE has passed away at the age of 85,” he said in a statement, via The Hollywood Reporter.
It's with great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and million of fans around the world, to announce that our client DAVE PROWSE M.B.E. has passed away at the age of 85. #DaveProwse @starwars #DarthVader #GreenCrossCodeMan #iconic #actor #bodybuilder #MBE pic.twitter.com/dL2RmdIqg8
— Bowington Management (@BowingtonM) November 29, 2020
Born in Bristol, England in 1935, Prowse’s interest in bodybuilding and weightlifting led him to compete for the Mr. Universe bodybuilding title in 1960. He then went on to win the British weightlifting championship for three consecutive years, in 1962, 1963 and 1964.
His imposing six-foot-seven height ultimately led Prowse to show business. Early on, he performed as a strongman under the stage name Jack the Ripper, ripping telephone books in half to demonstrate his strength.
One of Prowse’s first screen appearances was playing Frankenstein’s monster in the 1967 James Bond spoof “Casino Royale”, and he would go on to play the monster in several British horror movies. He also appeared in “The Saint,” “Doctor Who,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “A Clockwork Orange”.
During the 1970s and ’80s, Prowse became beloved by British children as the Green Cross Code Man, appearing in an ongoing series of public-service commercials teaching kids about traffic safety.
“Many people will know me for being the ultimate screen villain, ‘Star Wars’’ Darth Vader. But being a ‘goodie goodie’ and heading up the Green Cross Code campaign, helping to save thousands of lives has always been the ultimate honour,” Prowse said in 2014.
“Star Wars” writer-director George Lucas had seen Prowse in “A Clockwork Orange” before casting “Star Wars”, and the actor auditioned for the roles of Darth Vader and Chewbacca. Lucas offered Prowse either role, but he chose Vader. “Everyone remembers the villain,” he said.
“Lucas said to me, ‘You’ve got a choice of two characters in the movie,” Prowse recalled in a 2016 interview. “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.”
While Prowse’s imposing physique was perfect for Vader, Lucas didn’t think his British accent fit the character. American actor James Earl Jones was brought in to dub in Vader’s dialogue in post-production.
“Body acting and bodybuilding are more closely related than most people would image, and all that posing I’d done to impress the judges in my early years [paid] dividends,” he wrote in his 2011 book, Straight from the Force’s Mouth. “From within the black leather suit, I treated Vader’s every gesture as a bodybuilding pose, refining here and exaggerating there, until my character ‘spoke’ with every tilt of his head or movement of his arms.”
Prowse is survived by Norma Scammell, his wife of 57 years, and their three children.
“Star Wars” alums including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C3PO) and others paid tribute via social media.
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. #RIP pic.twitter.com/VbDrGu6iBz
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) November 29, 2020
More sad news. Dave has gone. I don’t think 3PO ever faced Vader’s mighty presence on set, other than as a bag of bits on Chewie’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.
— Anthony Daniels (@ADaniels3PO) November 29, 2020
— Peter Mayhew Foundation (@TheWookieeRoars) November 29, 2020
Sad to hear of the passing of a #StarWars family member. RIP Dave Prowse. Darth Vader wouldn't be the same without you in the costume. We had many fun times & laughs at cons together over the years. Glad to have been able to call you a friend. Rest now and be one with the Force! pic.twitter.com/st28CQGckF
— Daniel Logan (@Daniel_Logan) November 29, 2020
— Carl Weathers (@TheCarlWeathers) November 29, 2020
David Prowse, thank you for bringing my childhood to life by embodying one of the greatest villains in cinema history. But as @HamillHimself said, you are so much more than the man behind the mask. Your considerable achievements in life are an example to so many. Thank you. RIP.
— Liam McIntyre (@Liam_J_McIntyre) November 29, 2020