Darth Vader actor and legend David Prowse dies at 85

He gave the 'Star Wars' character his iconic presence.

Jon Fingas, Flickr

It’s a sad moment for the pop culture world. BBC News reports that David Prowse, the actor who portrayed the iconic Darth Vader on camera in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died at the age of 85 after a short illness.

He landed Vader, his best-known role, after George Lucas noticed him portraying a bodyguard in A Clockwork Orange and the towering 6’6” bodybuilder a chance to audition for roles. As he told the BBC in an interview, he chose the role of Vader over Chewbacca (played by the late Peter Mayhew) because people “always remember the bad guys.” Lucas dubbed over Prowse’s dialogue with James Earl Jones’ as he wanted a deeper, more sinister-sounding voice, but there’s no question that Prowse’s acting (which included on-set voice) defined Vader — the character wouldn’t be as intimidating otherwise.

As fellow Star Wars actor Mark Hamill said in a tribute, though, Prowse was much more than a Sith Lord. He was most proud of being the Green Cross Code Man, promoting road safety in the UK. The position earned him an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). He frequently appeared in fantasy and sci-fi productions like Doctor Who, Space: 1999 and Jabberwocky. He even played Frankenstein’s monster three times, including in the original Casino Royale.

Arthritis and other health issues dogged Prowse for much of his life, but he championed multiple health organizations and served as VP of the Physically Handicapped and Able-bodied Association.

Many will also remember him for his support of Star Wars fandom. This author certainly does. I had the privilege of seeing him at Ottawa Comiccon 2013, where he surrounded himself with fans and was happy to answer questions from the crowd. In a sense, that may be his legacy — he cherished enthusiasm and making an impact on others’ lives. He’ll be missed.