Star Wars Actor David Prowse, Who Played Darth Vader, Dead at 85

The British actor who played the iconic Star Wars villain has passed away.

David Prowse as Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977)
Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

David Prowse, a one-time weightlifter and bodybuilder who became a film icon by playing Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died at age 85 after a short illness.

According to multiple reports, the British actor’s death was confirmed via Twitter by his management, which stated, “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.”

Although Vader was famously voiced by American actor James Earl Jones, it was Prowse’s massive six-foot, six-inch body that filled out the black suit and mask worn by the Sith Lord once known as Anakin Skywalker.

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Prowse was born in Bristol, England on July 1, 1935. His early interest in bodybuilding led to him winning the 1962 British heavyweight weightlifting championship. After several more years in competitive weightlifting, he landed his first screen role (uncredited) as “Frankenstein’s Creation” in the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale. He later played an official creation of Frankenstein in two Hammer films, 1970’s The Horror of Frankenstein and 1973’s Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.

It was his small role as a bodyguard in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic A Clockwork Orange that first brought him to the attention of Star Wars creator George Lucas, who eventually asked him if he wanted to audition for either the role of Chewbacca or Darth Vader. Not wanting to wear a furry mask, he chose Darth Vader — but claimed he was unaware at the time that the character would be masked as well.

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back
Lucasfilm

Prowse played Vader in the original 1977 Star Wars, a.k.a. A New Hope, as well as 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi, although British Olympic fencer Bob Anderson handled several of the lightsaber duels instead of Prowse. And when Vader’s mask was finally removed at the end of Jedi, it was the face of actor Sebastian Shaw that viewers saw.

Prowse’s relationship with George Lucas and Star Wars production company Lucasfilm became strained over the course of the trilogy, starting in 1978 when Prowse allegedly blurted out that Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father — although Prowse later claimed it was a lucky guess because the script had not even been written at that point for what became The Empire Strikes Back.

Prowse also appeared in films like Vampire Circus and The People That Time Forgot, as well as TV series such as Space 1999 and Doctor Who. He was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2000 for his role as the Green Cross Code Man in a series of early 1970s U.K. road safety ads aimed at children. He was also the subject of a documentary called I Am Your Father, which dealt in part with his later estrangement from Lucasfilm.

He was also a regular on the fan convention circuit — although not welcomed at official Star Wars events allegedly because of the earlier controversies — until his retirement from that circuit in 2016 due to ill health.

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Prowse was married in 1963 to Norma Scammell, with whom he had three children.