David Prowse, seen here in 2013 with a costumed Darth Vader at a “Star Wars” convention in France, has died at age 85. The British actor was the man behind the menacing black mask of the “Star Wars” villain in the original trilogy. (Photo: THIERRY ZOCCOLAN, AFP via Getty Images)
Prowse died Saturday after a short illness, his agent Thomas Bowington announced Sunday.
“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,” Bowington Management tweeted.
Born in Bristol, southwest England, in 1935, Prowse was a three-time British weightlifting champion and represented England in weightlifting at the 1962 Commonwealth Games before breaking into movies with roles that emphasized his commanding size.
Pre-“Star Wars,” his bulk earned him the role of Frankenstein’s monster in several films, including “The Horror of Frankenstein” (1970), “Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell” (1974) and an uncredited part in the James Bond spy parody “Casino Royale” (1967). He also made appearances on “The Edge of Night,” “Doctor Who,” “The Saint” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Director George Lucas saw Prowse in a small part in “A Clockwork Orange” and asked the 6-foot-6 actor to audition for the villainous Vader or the Wookie Chewbacca (a role ultimately played by 7-foot-2 Peter Mayhew, who died last year) in “Star Wars.”
Prowse later told the BBC he chose Darth Vader because “you always remember the bad guys.”
Physically, Prowse was perfect for the part. His lilting English West Country accent was considered less ideal, and his lines were dubbed by James Earl Jones, who voiced the role as recently as 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Prowse donned Darth Vader’s black armor and helmet for “Star Wars” (1977), “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983).
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Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) famously tells Luke Skywalker “I am your father” in “The Empire Strikes Back.” (Photo: Lucasfilms)
He expressed some regret that, thanks to Vader’s mask, “I can walk around with complete anonymity.”
“All actors crave recognition and I’d like to have some like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo,” he told The Associated Press in 1980. “Fortune tends to follow fame.”
“I Am Your Father,” a 2016 Netflix documentary about the role, aimed to give the “Star Wars” actor the recognition he hadn’t received, and he wrote about his “Star Wars” experience in a 2011 memoir, “Straight From the Force’s Mouth.”
Prowse also worked as a trainer for other actors, helping Christopher Reeve prepare to be the Man of Steel in 1978’s “Superman.”
Prowse, made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2000, was famous to British children for his role as the Green Cross Code Man, a superhero in a series of public service advertisements about road safety during the 1970s and ’80s.
He was a regular at “Star Wars” fan events, but was banned from official conventions by Lucas in 2010 after the pair had a falling out.
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” films, tweeted that Prowse was “a kind man & much more than Darth Vader.” Hamill said the actor “loved his fans as much as they loved him.”
“Ant-Man” director Edgar Wright also paid tribute to Prowse on Twitter.
“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 street as the Green Cross Code man,” he wrote. “Rest in Peace, Bristol’s finest.”
“RIP Dave Prowse,” Mayhew’s family tweeted from his account, @TheWookieeRoars, sharing a photo of Prowse with Mayhew and Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 and died in 2016. “I hope you’re up there sharing a pint and a story with the boys.”
Prowse is survived by his wife Norma and their three children.
Contributing: Jill Lawless, The Associated Press, and Kim Willis, USA TODAY
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