Star Wars fans woke to some sad news when actor and former bodybuilder David Prowse passed away. The British character actor died at the age of 83, and if you’re a Star Wars saga lover at all, you know who he was playing. Prowse, of course, played Darth Vader and had the screen presence and size necessary to instantly turn Vader into a legendary villain. Even without the voice, which James Earl Jones (an icon of his own) unforgettable dubbed his voice, Prowse made the figure imposing and part of film history. He will be missed not just by fans but by everyone in the film world.
Here is an obituary for Prowse from The Guardian:
Cinema audiences were introduced to the fearsome Darth Vader when he emerged through the smoky remains of a laser battle at the start of Star Wars (1977). First came the silhouette of his swinging cloak and the flared helmet, then in close-up the cool details of his mask – the empty, flying eyes, the grille that looks like a mouth with clenched teeth.
Ralph McQuarrie drew the original sketches of the character and costume designer John Mollo made it a frightening reality, but it was British actor and former weightlifter David Prowse who was in the suit and behind the mask. Prowse, who died at the age of 85, was the one responsible for Vader’s imposing physicality and distinctive movements that were strangely graceful for such a tall one (the actor stood 6 feet 7 inches and weighed his 19th at the time).
It was one of the peculiarities of his particular kind of fame that although he played arguably the most memorable character in one of the greatest films of all time, he could still walk most of the streets without fear of being recognized.
Even his voice wouldn’t have given him away: although he spoke Vader’s lines during filming and was assured by writer and director George Lucas that he would be needed for the dubbing sessions later, it was American actor James Earl Jones who provided the character dialogue in the finished Movie. It was decided that Prowse’s thick West Country ridge, which has earned him the nickname “Darth Farmer” by other actors, would not have hit the right threat for an intergalactic villain.
He also couldn’t handle Vader’s threatening heavy breathing (that was sound designer Ben Burtt, who used scuba equipment). And although he had his stake in the lightsaber duels in the first picture, most of them were turned over to the stunt department for the sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). When Vader was exposed in the latter film shortly before his death, it was actor Sebastian Shaw rather than Prowse whose face was shown and who was allowed to speak the character’s last words. To further insult the anonymity, this death scene was hidden from Prowse, who claimed not to have shown any script pages during filming.
Such trifles matched his general frustration with the role. “As Darth Vader, you always feel like fame and fortune is coming your way, but just as it will hit you, it passes you by,” he complained. “Sometimes I want to scream in the cinema, ‘Hey, that’s me up there, that’s me, whom you’re all watching.'”
Rest in Peace David Prowse …