Dave Prowse, the Bristolian former bodybuilder best known for playing Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died aged 85.
Prowse was cast as Vader for his imposing physique, even though the role was voiced by James Earl Jones.
But the weightlifter-turned-actor was most proud of playing the Green Cross Code Man. The role, promoting road safety in the UK, earned him an MBE.
“May the force be with him, always!” said his agent Thomas Bowington.
“Though famous for playing many monsters – for myself, and all who knew Dave and worked with him, he was a hero in our lives.”
Mr Bowington called the actor’s death, after a short illness, “a truly and deeply heart-wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world”.
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, said he was “so sad” to hear the news.
“He was a kind man and much more than Darth Vader,” Hamill said on Twitter. “He loved his fans as much as they loved him.”
Star Wars co-star – and fellow Briton – Anthony Daniels, who has played C-3PO in 11 of the 12 Star Wars instalments, paid tribute to Prowse’s contribution to the epic series.
“Dave’s iconic figure dominated the finished film in ’77 and has done so ever since,” he wrote, on Twitter on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees hailed Prowse’s Bristol roots and his legacy: “A Bristol man and along with #WhyDon’tYou and #GrangeHill, part of our 70s and 80s childhoods,” he wrote.
Prowse’s career as an actor spanned 50 years, but it was his role as the Sith Lord in Star Wars that brought him international fame.
Unfortunately, his West Country accent was not deemed suitable for the part of a menacing Hollywood villain and his lines were dubbed.
However, Prowse was a definitive presence in all three of the early films, thanks to his hulking 6ft 6in (1.98 m) frame, honed by the weightlifting skills which saw him represent England at the Commonwealth Games in the early 1960s.
During this period, he reportedly became close friends with rival bodybuilding competitors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno (later better known as TV’s Incredible Hulk) – long before their on-screen fame.
Even before he began acting, Prowse found success in Hollywood circles, preparing the late Christopher Reeve for the physical demands of his role as Superman, as the actor’s personal trainer.
Prowse made his film debut in 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale playing Frankenstein’s Creature, a part he was asked to play again in two films from the iconic Hammer film series, 1970’s Horror Of Frankenstein and 1974’s Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.
He also regularly featured on cult series such as The Saint, Space 1999 and Doctor Who, in which he was cast as a minotaur in the 1972 episode The Time Monster, opposite Jon Pertwee.
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”.
With the success of Star Wars, Prowse became a regular on the fan circuit and attended conventions around the world for almost 40 years, but he was rumoured to have later fallen out with director Lucas and was banned from official events in 2010.
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”.
Brought up in Bristol, he spent his later years living in Croydon “a loving husband, father and grandfather”.
His autobiography Straight from the Force’s Mouth was published in 2011.