"Star Wars" cast members and fans of the franchise on Thursday were mourning the loss of Peter Mayhew, the lanky actor inside the Wookiee suit who played Chewbacca, or Chewie, in the original film trilogy.
Mayhew died at his home in Texas on Tuesday at the age of 74, according to a family statement. No cause was given.
"He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films," the family statement said. "But, to him, the 'Star Wars' family meant so much more to him than a role in a film."
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Mayhew, who was more than 7 feet tall, developed lifelong friendships with his fellow actors.
"He was the gentlest of giants — A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly," actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker opposite Mayhew, wrote on Twitter. "I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him."
"Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character," Harrison Ford said in a statement. He and Mayhew were "partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years."
Ford recalled how Mayhew had "invested his soul in the character."
Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian in the last two films of the original trilogy, said Mayhew was "much more than Chewie."
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"My heart hurts," Williams said in a tweet to which he also attached a decades-old photo of him standing next to Chewbacca on set.
Mayhew went on to appear as the Wookiee in 2005's "Revenge of the Sith" and shared the part in 2015's "The Force Awakens" with actor Joonas Suotamo, who took over the role.
Suotamo posted a statement dedicated to his "dear friend and mentor."
"Peter's warm welcome when I came aboard as his double in The Force Awakens meant so much to me. Studying the character he helped create was always a daunting task, but one that was made easier by his tutelage and kindness as we sought to bring Chewbacca to life for a new generation."
Born and raised in England, Mayhew had appeared in just one film and was working as a hospital orderly in London when George Lucas found him and cast him in 1977's "Star Wars."
"Peter was a wonderful man," Lucas said Thursday in a statement. "He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature, and I learned to always let him win."
Scroll below to see social media's reaction to the loss of the original Chewie.
Andrew Dalton of The Associated Press contributed.