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‘Star Wars’ actor David Prowse, who played Darth Vader, dies aged 85

The British actor portrayed the legendary villain in the original three 'Star Wars’ films, but later fell out with creator George Lucas

David Prowse, the British actor who played Darth Vader in the original three 'Star Wars' films, has died aged 85. Getty Images
David Prowse, the British actor who played Darth Vader in the original three 'Star Wars' films, has died aged 85. Getty Images

The actor behind the famous Darth Vader mask has died at the age of 85.

British actor David Prowse passed away following a short illness. His agent, Thomas Bowington, confirmed the news in a statement, saying: “May the force be with him, always.”

At six feet and six inches, Prowse was a natural pick to play the powerful and intimidating Galactic Empire villain and nemesis of Luke Skywalker, although his voice was provided by American actor James Earl Jones.

Hailing from Bristol in the west of England, Prowse’s West Country accent was so strong that Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia, nicknamed him Darth Farmer on the set of Star Wars – A New Hope, which was released in 1977.

British actor David Prowse and American actress Carrie Fisher on the set of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope written, directed and produced by Georges Lucas. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia, nicknamed Prowse 'Darth Farmer' on account of his strong West Country accent. Getty Images

A bodybuilder and weightlifter in his youth, Prowse became something of a cultural touchstone in his native UK for portraying the Green Cross Code man – a character used in Britain to teach children road safety.

Prior to landing the part of Darth Vader, he had small roles in The Morecambe & Wise Show, Little House on the Prairie and The Top Secret Life of Edgar Bridges opposite Only Fools and Horses star David Jason.

But it was the role of Skywalker’s father, Darth Vader, which won him global fame, as he starred in the three original films in the Star Wars franchise.

Appearing in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Prowse would later appear in the 2015 documentary I Am Your Father, about his famous character.

Despite being synonymous with the role, Prowse and Star Wars creator George Lucas were rumoured to have had a falling out over a different actor being used when Vader’s mask was finally removed in Return of the Jedi.

“According to his website, Prowse has been banned from Lucas Film associated events,” reported the New York Daily News. “[Saying,] ‘After enquiring, the only thing I have been told is that I have 'burnt too many bridges between Lucas Film and myself' – no other reason given.’”

The Sun reported Prowse claimed Lucas had accused him of leaking news of Darth Vader’s death ahead of the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi, and it was alleged Prowse felt he didn’t receive his fair share of profits from the hit films.

“Dave never received much money for his role and was always shoved to the side,” a friend told the UK newspaper. “He believes he’s been an embarrassment or annoying to Lucas.”

Prowse was awarded an MBE for services to charity and road safety in the 2000 New Year Honours List.

Updated: November 29, 2020 11:59 AM

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