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SYFY WIRE obituary

David Prowse, original Darth Vader actor in Star Wars, dies at 85

By Josh Weiss
David Prowse

David Prowse, the British actor and body-builder who brought Darth Vader to life in the original Star Wars trilogy and beyond, has passed away at the age of 85 early Saturday morning. His death was confirmed by his personal management agency, Bowington Management, on Twitter.

"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," the agency wrote.

While the 6'6'' actor spent the majority of his career wearing the iconic mask, Star Wars fans know that the name "David Prowse" is synonymous with the Sith Lord, Darth Vader. While the character was famously voiced by James Earl Jones, it was the looming dramatic figure of Prowse that brought Vader to life on the screen. Prowse gave Darth Vader an ominous presence in the films that will never be forgotten.

Born in Bristol, England in July of 1935, Prowse was raised by his mother and suffered from joint issues as a kid due to the fact that he was growing so fast. "They tried to put braces on me to correct it," he said during an interview in 2016. "Before they finally figured out when I was 15 that there was nothing wrong with me. Got into swimming and body building to strengthen and ended up weightlifting competitions. I started entering weightlifting competitions and even won the British heavyweight weightlifting title."

Prowse's impressive height and build made him perfect for the role of the imposing half-man, half-robot antagonist of George Lucas' original Star Wars trilogy. However, Lucas originally gave him the choice between playing Vader or Chewbacca. Prowse chose Vader and the role of Chewie went to the late Peter Mayhew. Prowse then provided the physical performance for the trilogy's iconic villain, who was later over-dubbed by Jones.

"I did the voice all the way through the movies and I kept on saying to Lucas, 'What are we going to do about the voice? Everything I'm saying is coming from inside the mask and it's obviously no good for re-production,'" the actor recalled in 2016. "He said, 'Don't worry, we'll go into the same studios and re-record all your dialogue properly.' ... What happened was, they got to the end of the movie, [went] back to America immediately, because the films were all shot in England. When they were in America, they suddenly realized that I hadn't done the over-dubbing. Then, of course, it was too expensive to get me to fly out to Hollywood to do an hour's work. So they started looking around and got James Earl Jones, who was a lovely character and a great guy ... But I still think I could've done equally as well, given the right opportunity."

Prowse was memorialized on Twitter by Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill, who wrote: "So sad to hear David Prowse has passed. He was a kind man and 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."

In 2009, Prowse, who was 73 at the time, announced that he was battling cancer. He later went into remission that same year. The story of his life was chronicled in the actor's 2011 memoir Straight From The Force's Mouth and Toni Bestard and Marcos Cabotá's 2015 documentary I Am Your Father.

Prowse was allegedly banned from any Lucasfilm events in the early 2010s after "annoying" George Lucas. "The only thing I've been told is I've burnt too many bridges between Lucasfilm and myself," Prowse's website said at the time. "Sincere apologies to all my fans who were hoping to meet with me — I shall miss you too." According to a Den of Geek article from 2018, Lucas was none too pleased with Prowse's participation in Alexandre O. Philippe's 2010 documentary, The People Versus George Lucas. Even before that, however, the actor was supposedly on the outs with Lucas after spoiling Empire's "I am your father" twist two years before the sequel was released in theaters.

Prowse is survived by his wife of 57 years, Norma E. Scammell, and three children.