The Man Who Played Darth Vader Is Dead At 85

By Ross Bonaime | 2 months ago

Star Wars Darth Vader

David Prowse, the British actor who played Darth Vader in the original three Star Wars films, has died at the age of 85.

The news was shared by David Prowse’s agent Thomas Bowington through the Bowington Management Twitter account, who announced Prowse’s passing with “great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and millions of fans around the world.” While James Earl Jones voiced Darth Vader, Prowse portrayed the physical character of Darth Vader. Prowse played Darth Vader in 1977’s Star Wars, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, and in 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

Beyond his work as Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars films, David Prowse was both an accomplished actor and former bodybuilder. Prowse’s early work included appearances in television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Saint. Over the years, Prowse would appear on quite a few classic British series, including Doctor Who, The Benny Hill Show, and the 1981 series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In 1971, David Prowse appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange as Julian, a bodyguard to the character of Frank Alexander. Because of this role, George Lucas remembered the actor years later when he was filming Star Wars, where he brought Prowse on as Darth Vader. 

In an interview from 2016, David Prowse said that when George Lucas first contacted him about appearing in Star Wars, he had his pick between Darth Vader and another iconic role. “Lucas said to me, ‘You’ve got a choice of two characters in the movie,’” Prowse said. “He said ‘There’s a character called Chewbacca, which is like a huge teddy bear, or alternately, there’s the main villain in the piece.’ Well, there’s no choice, is there? Thank you very much, I’ll have the villain’s piece.”

Throughout his career, not only would David Prowse play Darth Vader three times, but he also played Frankenstein’s monster in three films. He would play the character in the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale, and in the horror films The Horror of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Prowse also appeared in Terry Gilliam’s first directorial effort outside of Monty Python, 1977’s Jabberwocky.

Part of what made David Prowse such an obvious pick for Darth Vader though was his impressive physicality. In 1962 and the following two years, Prowse won the British heavyweight weightlifting championship. Prowse even represented England in the weightlifting events at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, held in Australia. Prowse would becoming a fitness consultant at the British department store Harrods, and would eventually open his own franchise of gyms known as The Dave Prowse Fitness Center in London.

Darth Vader

But even beyond Darth Vader, David Prowse was partially responsible for some other major film roles over the years. After fighting for the role of Superman in 1978, Prowse became the trainer for Christopher Reeve, who had won the part. Prowse also trained Cary Elwes in his role as Westley in 1987’s The Princess Bride.

In 2011, David Prowse released his autobiography Straight from the Force’s Mouth, and in 2016, Prowse announced his retirement from public appearances and events, due to poor health. Prowse died on November 28 in London after a short illness. From an impressive bodybuilding career, to playing one of the most memorable characters in film history with Darth Vader, Prowse leaves behind a tremendous legacy and he certainly will be missed.

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