David Prowse, most famously the man behind Darth Vader’s iconic mask, has died.
A weight-trainer and body-builder, he was the British Heavyweight Weightlifting Championship in 1962, 1963 and 1964 and represented the country in the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia. and the following two years helped train Christopher Reeve for Superman and was said to have helped Cary Elwes for The Princess Bride. The Lord of the Sith may have been his most globally-recognised performance, but it was hardly his only notable role. His imposing physical-frame also brought roles in such films as The Horror of Frankenstein, Up-Pompeii, Carry On, Henry, Clockwork Orange, Callan and tv roles in Doctor Who, Space 1999 and the BBC‘s adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. On the television he was also the Green Cross Code Man, part of a massively successful campaign during the 1970s to encourage pedestrian safety near roads, especially in children. The campaign memorably cut the number of accidents and fatalities by a massive amount and Prowse is said to have felt that was his proudest achievement. He received an MBE for his services in 2000.
Much has been written about his personal disappointment over the way his connection to Darth Vader was portrayed and his relationship with Lucasfilm thereafter. It started not so much with the fact that his own West Country accent was not used for Darth Vader but that he claimed he only found out that James Earl Jones had rerecorded his lines when Prowse saw the finished film. Prowse also claimed there was an allegation that he’d spoiled the big Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father’ reveal before The Empire Strikes Back was released, though the only public record of him making the connection was not long after Star Wars‘ release and years before the sequel was made and which he put down to an ’empty guess’ rather than any inside information about a script that yet to be written. He was also said to be disappointed that legendary fight choreographer and swordmaster Bob Anderson was used in some key scenes during the filming of Return of the Jedi. There were also disagreements over residuals, with Prowse saying that despite Return of the Jedi grossing $475 million on a $32 million budget, ‘Hollywood accounting’ saw very little come his way.
Prowse suffered many health problems in his life. Arthritis in his teenage years appeared to recede when he took up weight-lifting, but it reappeared later in life. It led to the replacements of both hips and a fused ankle, which is why he began walking with a cane. In 2001 he also developed some paralysis in his upper body. In 2009 he revealed he was battling prostate cancer which he had discovered after a chance conservation during his participation to help a charity raising funds to help sufferers and which led to a routine blood test. Later the same year Prowse said he was in remission.
Lucasfilm decided not to invite Prowse to official Star Wars related events after 2010 and Prowse subsequently made the following statement: “It is with regret that I have been informed by my friends at C2 Ventures, Ben and Phillip, that I am not to be invited to C5 this year or any other Lucas Film associated events. After enquiring, the only thing I have been told is that I have “burnt too many bridges between Lucas Film and myself” – no other reason given.” However Prowse was a familiar face at many unofficial events, a draw to fans of all ages and archivist Jason Joiner who runs the Showmasters events frequently had Prowse as a guest until the actor’s health declined. In a facebook statement, Jason said: “His first ever collectors event was with us, Showmasters, in the UK in the 80s and his last ever public event in the world was also with us. The Dave Prowse Empire Day ran for him to say one last goodbye to all his fans. Dave was dedicated to meeting the fans for decades and lots of fans’ first ever guest they met was Dave in the early days of Comic Cons and collectors events. Dave was larger than life and he will so very much missed. Our love and thoughts go out to his family…”
He is survived by his wife Norma E. Scammell (whom he married in 1963) and their three children.