Actor David Prowse MBE, the first performer to wear the iconic armor of Darth Vader in Star Wars, passed away over the weekend after a short illness, according to his agent, Thomas Bowington. The news broke in the overnight hours Sunday morning. Deadline reports that Prowse’s daughter has confirmed with The Sun that his death was from complications related to Covid-19.
“It’s with great regret and heart-wrenching sadness for us and million of fans around the world, to announce that our client DAVE PROWSE M.B.E. has passed away at the age of 85,” Bowington Management posted to Twitter.
Prowse’s daughter, Rachel, also confirmed that her father had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, saying, “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.” Prowse had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Prowse, who stood 6 feet 6 inches tall, pursued success in British heavyweight weightlifting, winning three championships and representing England in the 1962 Commonwealth Games. His experience as a bodybuilder led him to London in 1963, where he went to work for a weightlifting company. In 1978, he trained Christopher Reeve for the title role in Superman, and in 1987 trained Cary Elwes for The Princess Bride. His connections to superheroes hit closer to home when he played one himself in 1975. Prowse was known as the Green Cross Code Man, promoting a road safety campaign for children. As a result of his work on the campaign, which ran from 1971 to 1990, Prowse received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), an order of chivalry rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences as well as charitable work and public service.
It was his performance as Julian the bodyguard in A Clockwork Orange, that drew the attention of George Lucas.
“David brought a physicality to Darth Vader that was essential for the character,” Lucas said in a statement. “He made Vader leap off the page and on to the big screen, with an imposing stature and movement performance to match the intensity and undercurrent of Vader’s presence. David was up for anything and contributed to the success of what would become a memorable, tragic figure. May he rest in peace.”
Lucas and Prowse had a falling out in 2010 that led to the actor’s banishment from official Star Wars events thereafter.
Prowse also had roles in Doctor Who, Space: 1999, The Saint, Jabberwocky, plus three turns as Frankenstein’s monster in Casino Royale, The Horror of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. In 2016, he was the subject of the documentary I Am Your Father, which was written and directed by Toni Bestard and Marcos Cabotá to put the spotlight on Prowse, whom they felt had not received his due credit for his performance as Vader. With his voice dubbed by James Earl Jones and his face replaced by Sebastian Shaw (in Vader’s final scenes in Return of the Jedi), Prowse expressed some regret for his anonymity. “All actors crave recognition and I’d like to have some like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo,” he told The Associated Press in 1980. “Fortune tends to follow fame.” He wrote about his work on Star Wars in the 2001 memoir, Straight From the Force’s Mouth.
Daughter Rachel said, “He might have looked quite scary but as a person he was a sweet, kind and generous man. He really was a gentle giant. And to us he was our dad.”
Prowse is survived by his wife, Norma, and their three children.