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'Star Wars' uncle Phil Brown dies at 89

Actor best known for his role as Uncle Owen in George Lucas' classic
/ Source: The Associated Press

Phil Brown, who played Luke Skywalker's Uncle Owen in the 1977 hit film "Star Wars," has died.

Brown died of pneumonia Thursday at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, said his wife, Ginny. He was 89.

Though Brown worked in stage and film for more than 30 years, many remember him best for his brief role as the loving uncle who tries to give Skywalker a normal childhood and keep him from knowing he has Jedi roots. Uncle Owen and his wife Beru meet an early end at the hands of imperial storm troopers.

It was "a very small part by comparison to the roles I had previously played. To be quite frank, I never gave it a thought again," Brown told the Baltimore Sun.

Brown got the part through unusual circumstances.

He moved his family to London in the 1950s after being blacklisted during the communist scare in the United States. A longtime progressive, Brown always denied being a Communist.

In London, he found work on stage and in such films as "Tropic of Cancer" (1970) and "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1977).

In the mid-1970s, George Lucas was filming interior scenes for "Star Wars" at a London sound stage and needed an actor with a strong American accent.

Brown got the role, then spent a month or so in Tunisia filming a handful of scenes.

He returned to California in the early 1990s, quickly discovering that the role had made him a celebrity. He became a popular figure at science fiction conventions.

The son of a doctor, Brown was born in Cambridge, Mass. and graduated from Stanford University.

He was accepted in the Group Theatre in New York in 1938, and first job on Broadway was as a dancer in the play "Everywhere I Roam."

The Group Theatre folded in 1941, and Brown moved to Los Angeles looking for work in the movies.

Along with other former Group Theatre members, he formed the Actor's Laboratory, which produced critically acclaimed works in Hollywood.

He directed plays by Arthur Miller, Nikolai Gogol and Arthur Laurent. In 1948, he moved to London and played opposite Helen Hayes in Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."

Returning to Hollywood in 1949, Brown found work as a director. Two years later finished his first feature film, "The Harlem Globetrotters," starring Dorothy Dandridge and members of the famous basketball team.

But that promising start ended with the "Red Scare" and the government focus on some members of the Actor's Lab. Brown and his wife left for London and stayed for 40 years.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years; a son, Kevin, of Hawaii; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.