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/ Source: TODAY
By Laura T. Coffey

Peter Mayhew, the actor who spent decades playing Chewbacca in the epic intergalactic movie series “Star Wars,” has died at age 74.

Mayhew's family announced on social media that he passed away on April 30 while surrounded by loved ones in his North Texas home.

"He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films from his knock-kneed running, firing his bowcaster from the hip, his bright blue eyes, down to each subtle movement of his head and mouth," Mayhew's family said in a statement. "But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film. The relationships that began then grew into the friends and family that he would love for decades to come."

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Mayhew played Chewbacca, a lovable Wookiee and loyal friend to Han Solo, in the original "Star Wars" trilogy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He reprised the role in "Star Wars Episode II: The Revenge of the Sith" in 2005 and in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 2015. In order to appear in "The Force Awakens," Mayhew "fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more," his family said in their statement.

Peter Mayhew starred as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford as Han Solo in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."Walt Disney Pictures

Mayhew also consulted on the 2017 movie "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in order to help his successor, Joonas Suotamo, learn the ways of the Force.

Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" films, mourned the loss of his longtime colleague on Thursday and described him as "the gentlest of giants" and "a big man with an even bigger heart."

Harrison Ford, who played Chewie's close friend Han Solo, said that he and "millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all."

George Lucas, creator of the "Star Wars" franchise, described Mayhew as "a wonderful man" and "a good friend."

"He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature ... and I learned to always let him win," Lucas said in a statement.

Fans likewise shared an outpouring of sympathy over the loss of Chewie and praise for Mayhew's legacy.

Mayhew's death marks the loss of yet another bright star in the "Star Wars" galaxy. Carrie Fisher, best known for her portrayal of Princess Leia, died at age 60 in December 2016 after suffering a heart attack on a plane.

Mayhew’s family noted that the actor felt grateful for “the possibilities of what he could achieve with his role in the Star Wars universe.” This prompted Mayhew to support the 501st Legion, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and ultimately led him to create the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which helps individuals and families in crisis situations. Mayhew's foundation recently provided meals and supplies to children in Venezuela.

Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children. A memorial for his family and friends is planned for June 29. His family also will attend a much larger memorial for Mayhew's fans, complete with movie memorilbilia and personal effects, at the Los Angeles Empire Con in December.