David Prowse, towering actor who played Darth Vader in 'Star Wars,' dies at age 85

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Patrick Smith
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

David Prowse, the towering actor who terrified generations of movie-watchers as Darth Vader in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, has died at age 85.

He died after a short illness, his agent, Thomas Bowington, confirmed Sunday morning.

"A constant source of inspiration, encouragement and kindness. A truly and deeply heart wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world!" Bowington said in a statement.

Image: On the set of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images)
Image: On the set of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images)

"A loving husband, father and grandfather. May the force be with him, always!"

Prowse did not provide Vader's voice — that was James Earl Jones — but his muscular 6-foot-6 frame became the embodiment of one of the great movie villains.

Born in Bristol, England, in 1935, Prowse was a competitive weightlifter before he entered show business, winning the British heavyweight lifting championship three years in a row beginning in 1962. His bodybuilding prowess led him to become a personal trainer to various screen stars, including Christopher Reeve while he was preparing for "Superman."

Image: David Prowse (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters)
Image: David Prowse (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters)

Prowse had several minor acting roles as monsters and tough guys before his break came courtesy of Stanley Kubrick's controversial and ultraviolent "A Clockwork Orange" in 1971, in which he played a bodyguard. He was also well known to British children in the 1970s as the face of a road safety TV campaign — which earned him an MBE, a civil honor awarded by the royal family to recognize contributions to public life.

But his most memorable role came as George Lucas was casting for 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope."

"George said he could offer me two parts — the first was a hairy gorilla called Chewbacca," Prowse told the Bristol Post on a trip to his home city in 2009.

"I said I wasn't too interested because I didn't want to wear a mask — I wanted to play a part where people could see my face. He said the other part was the central villain, and I told him, 'That will do.' But I never realized the villain would also be wearing a mask!"

Prowse toured the world visiting fan conventions for 40 years until he retired from public life in 2016 because of ill health.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

Prowse's co-stars led tributes to him Sunday, including Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.