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Star Wars’ Darth Vader Actor Dies, Aged 85

Dave Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film trilogy, has died on Nov. 28 at a hospital in London. He was 85.

His agent, Thomas Bowington, confirmed the actor’s death but did not provide an immediate cause.

Prowse, who was a bodybuilder before appearing in the George Lucas franchise, was also known for playing the Green Cross Code Man in a television road safety campaign aimed at children. The role, promoting road safety in the UK, earned him a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2000.

David Prowse as Darth Vader in a scene from the film ‘Star Wars’, 1977. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Prowse may have scored the role of Star Wars villain Vader due to his imposing 6ft 6in stature, honed by his weightlifting skills, which saw him represent England at the Commonwealth Games in the early 1960s, but producers decided his West Country accent was less of a fit and insisted on using a different actor’s voice.

At 6-foot-6 and weighing 275 pounds, he used his imposing physique to give shape and form to Darth Vader’s threatening presence on screen as the embodiment of the Evil Empire. His costume featured a menacing grilled face mask, a glistening black helmet modeled after samurai headgear, a leather jumpsuit, black gloves, knee-high boots, a sweeping cape, and a flashing electronic chest panel on a fiberglass breastplate.

James Earl Jones delivered the character’s lines, but Prowse was chosen to wear the costume after Lucas spotted him playing a hulking bodyguard in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971).

According to the actor, he was first offered Chewbacca’s role but chose Vader as he wanted to play a villain.

Even before he began acting, Prowse found success in Hollywood circles, preparing the late Christopher Reeve for the physical demands of his role as Superman, as the actor’s trainer. He made his film debut in 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale playing Frankenstein’s Creature. He was later asked to play the part again in two films from the iconic Hammer film series, 1970’s Horror Of Frankenstein and 1974’s Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.

Following his death, messages have poured in from colleagues in the industry recollecting moments with the late actor. Writer and director Edgar Wright tweeted: “As a kid, Dave Prowse couldn’t be more famous to me; stalking along corridors as evil incarnate in the part of Darth Vader & stopping a whole generation of kiddies from being mown down in the street as the Green Cross Code man. Rest in Peace, Bristol’s finest.”

Mr. Bowington called the actor’s death “a truly and deeply heart-wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world.”

The family of the late actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca alongside Prowse’s Vader, posted a picture of the pair with R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker, who died in 2016: “I hope you’re up there sharing a pint and a story with the boys,” said the tweet posted by the Peter Mayhew Foundation.

With the success of Star Wars, Prowse became a regular on the fan circuit and attended conventions around the world for almost 40 years, but he was rumored to have later fallen out with director Lucas and was banned from official events in 2010.

Despite the enduring clamor for Star Wars, the actor always maintained that playing the Green Cross Code Man, which he first portrayed in 1975, was the “best job I ever had.” Dressed in a distinctive green and white superhero suit, he became the face of British road safety for more than a decade, known for his catchphrase “Stop, look and listen.” “The kids loved being talked to by Darth Vader,” he told the Western Daily Press. “We reduced road accidents for children from over 40,000 per year to 20,000, saving thousands of lives. That has been my greatest achievement.”

Brought up in Bristol, he spent his later years living in Croydon, “a loving husband, father, and grandfather.”

 

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