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David Prowse, actor who played Darth Vader, dead at 85 from COVID-19

Actor David Prowse died Saturday at age 85. His daughter said he’d contracted COVID-19 and had been in the hospital for treatment before his death.

In an interview with UK’s The Sun, Prowse daughter Rachel confirmed that her father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, had been hospitalized for the last two weeks with Covid. Confirming the cause of death, Rachel Prowse said, “It’s horrible that Covid restrictions meant we did not get to see him and say goodbye. But when we went to collect his stuff from the hospital the nurse said what a cool guy he was. He was such a larger-than-life character. He would have loved to see himself trending on Twitter.”

The BBC tells the story of how Prowse wound up auditioning for George Lucas and Star Wars:

Spotted by director George Lucas in the 1971 film Clockwork Orange, in which he played a bodyguard, Prowse was invited to audition for the roles of Darth Vader and Chewbacca in 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

He later told the BBC’s Tanya Beckett, he chose Vader over Chewbacca because “you always remember the bad guys”.

Prowse appeared in a lot of other films and TV shows during his career, everything from the Beverly Hillbillies to Doctor Who and Space 1999 even before he appeared in Star Wars. After Star Wars he became a regular on the convention circuit, though before the Return of the Jedi was even filmed he was already on the outs with Lucas over allegedly leaking some plot details from Empire Strikes Back and Jedi. That’s allegedly why Lucas had another actor appear when Vader was finally unmasked in Jedi.

When Vader was unmasked in the latter film, moments before his death, it was the actor Sebastian Shaw, rather than Prowse, whose face was shown, and who got to speak the character’s final words. To add insult to anonymity, this death scene was concealed from Prowse, who claimed not to have been shown script pages during shooting.

Such slights were in keeping with his general frustrations about the role. “As Darth Vader, you always feel as if fame and fortune’s coming towards you, but, just as it’s going to hit, it passes you by,” he lamented. “Sometimes in the cinema, I want to yell out: ‘Hey, that’s me up there, that’s me you’re all watching.’”

Despite being known worldwide as the actor who played Darth Vader, Prowse said he was most proud of a role he played earlier in his life:

Despite the enduring clamour for Star Wars, the actor always maintained that playing the Green Cross Code Man, which he first portrayed in 1975, was the “best job I ever had”.

Dressed in a distinctive green and white superhero suit, he became the face of British road safety for more than a decade, known for his catchphrase “Stop, look and listen”.

Prowse was later awarded an MBE for his work as the Green Cross Man.

As regular readers know, I have a love-hate relationship with Star Wars. Like a million other kids it was a big part of my childhood growing up but I later became disappointed with the prequels and even more so with the sequels. But as much as Disney has tried to wear out my fondness for the property, I still love the original films and will never forget the first appearance of Darth Vader on the big screen when I was 10 years old. He was instantly iconic and remains one of the greatest movie villains of all time. That wasn’t all Prowse of course. James Earl Jones, Ben Burtt and Ralph McQuarrie helped make the character what he was too. But Prowse was the guy in the suit for most of those first two films and made Vader a threatening physical presence that made the story work.

Mark Hamill praised Prowse as “much more than Darth Vader” yesterday:

Some other notable reactions:

Finally, I like this photo which I’d never seen before:

Rest in peace, Mr. Prowse.