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David Prowse, towering actor who played Darth Vader in 'Star Wars,' dies aged 85

"A loving husband, father and grandfather. May the force be with him, always!" his agent said Sunday.
/ Source: NBC News

David Prowse, the towering actor who terrified generations of movie-watchers as playing Darth Vader in the three original "Star Wars" trilogy, has died aged 85.

He died after a short illness, his agent Thomas Bowington confirmed to NBC News Sunday morning.

"A constant source of inspiration, encouragement and kindness. A truly and deeply heart wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world!" Bowington said in a statement.

"A loving husband, father and grandfather. May the force be with him, always!"

British actors Peter Cushing, David Prowse, and American actress Carrie Fisher on the set of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope written, directed and produced by Georges Lucas.Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images

Prowse did not provide Vader's voice — that was James Earl Jones — but his muscular 6-foot-6-inch frame became the embodiment of one of the great movie villains.

Born in Bristol, England, in 1935, Prowse was a competitive weightlifter before entering show business, winning the British heavyweight lifting championship three years in a row from 1962. His bodybuilding prowess led him to become a personal trainer to various screen stars, including Christopher Reeve while he was preparing for "Superman."

Prowse had several minor acting roles as monsters and tough guys before his break came courtesy of Stanley Kubrick's controversial and ultra-violent 'A Clockwork Orange' in 1971, in which he played a bodyguard. He was also well known to British children in the 1970s as the face of a road safety TV campaign — which earned him an MBE, a civil honor awarded by the royal family to recognize contributions to public life.

Actor David Prowse, who portrayed Darth Vader, signs autographs during the opening day of "Star Wars Celebration IV" in Los Angeles May 24, 2007.Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

But his most memorable role came as George Lucas was casting for 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope."

"George said he could offer me two parts — the first was a hairy gorilla called Chewbacca," Prowse told the Bristol Post newspaper on a trip to his home city in 2009.

"I said I wasn't too interested because I didn't want to wear a mask — I wanted to play a part where people could see my face.

British actor David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movie trilogy, at the 48th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, near Barcelona, Spain, in 2015.Susanna Saez / EPA

"He said the other part was the central villain and I told him, 'That will do'. But I never realized the villain would also be wearing a mask!"

Prowse toured the world visiting fan conventions for 40 years, until his retirement from public life in 2016 due to ill health.

Prowse's co-stars led tributes to him Sunday, including Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker.

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