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‘Star Wars’ actor David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in original movies, dies at 85

By Peter Sblendorio, New York Daily News
Published: November 30, 2020, 3:07pm

David Prowse, the celebrated bodybuilder and film star who provided the hulking, imposing frame of Darth Vader as the original actor to play the iconic “Star Wars” villain, has died. He was 85.

The English actor’s death was announced by his agency Sunday morning.

“It’s with great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and (millions) 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 shared in a tweet.

Agent Thomas Bowington told NBC News that Prowse died following a short battle with an illness, which was not disclosed.

The 6-foot-7 Prowse gave the brooding physical performance of Vader in the original trilogy of “Star Wars” movies, while James Earl Jones did the voice for the mask-wearing, armored character.

Prowse’s face is never seen in the “Star Wars” films in which he appeared: “A New Hope” (1977), “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983). A moment showing Vader remove his helmet in “Return of the Jedi” saw actor Sebastian Shaw briefly portray the redeemed Sith lord.

But Prowse’s legacy looms large as the first actor to embody what many consider the greatest movie villain of all time.

“So sad to hear David Prowse has passed,” tweeted Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” films. “He was a kind man & 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.”

Anthony Daniels, who portrays C-3PO, commemorated Prowse’s impact on the “Star Wars” franchise.

“More sad news,” Daniels tweeted. “Dave has gone. I don’t think 3PO ever faced Vader’s mighty presence on set, other than as a bag of bits on Chewie’s shoulders in the carbon freezer. But Dave’s iconic figure dominated the finished film in ’77 and has done so ever since. And will continue to do so.”

Before his acting career took off, Prowse was a British weightlifting champion who also worked with celebrities as a trainer. He famously helped Christopher Reeve get ready for the title role in 1978’s “Superman.”

Although he was best known for Vader, the Bristol-born Prowse racked up dozens of acting credits during an entertainment career that spanned decades, including playing Julian the bodyguard in “A Clockwork Orange.”

From 1971 to 1980, Prowse portrayed the superhero Green Cross Man in a United Kingdom campaign to promote pedestrian road safety.

Prowse was later the subject of a 2015 documentary about his life and career titled “I Am Your Father.”

“Incredibly sad to hear Dave Prowse has passed,” tweeted Billy Dee Williams, who plays Lando Calrissian in the “Star Wars” films. “It was a great gift to work with him and an honor to call him my friend.”