Darth Vader – Bodybuilder turned big screen star David Prowse has died at the age of 85. Prowse combined a sizeable stature (6’6) with a big heart.
However his most famous role was that of Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and arguably the most memorable character of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise.
He got the gig after the writer/director watched him in another sci-fi classic. “George Lucas said, ‘I saw you in Clockwork Orange’” Prowse told The Big Issue in 2011. Lucas then added: “‘If you’re good enough for Stanley Kubrick, you’re good enough for me.’”
Prowse was given the option of playing Chewbacca instead. But the description of the Wookie as a big teddy bear didn’t grab him and he set his sights on playing the villain. The original ‘Star Wars’ – aka ‘Episode IV’ – was released in 1977. Vader’s distinctive black-clad appearance concealed Prowse’s face under a frightening, skull-like helmet.
Speaking about the constrictive costume in autobiography ‘Straight From The Force’s Mouth’ (2005), Prowse revealed he was “virtually blind” once suited up. He wrote, “the heat generated by the suit obeyed the laws of physics and traveled upward”, steaming up Vader’s eye sockets.
According to Prowse, Lucas didn’t offer much in the way of direction. “I developed the walk and mannerisms on my own and I suppose he approved” he commented, quoted by The Independent. As a noted “strongman”, the performer aimed to make his performance as physical as possible.
He famously lost out on providing the voice. That honor went to James Earl Jones, with breathing effects by sound designer Ben Burtt. Prowse delivered the lines on set, though his West Country tones didn’t exactly gel with intergalactic intrigue. The effect was unintentionally comedic, with Carrie Fisher nicknaming the actor “Darth Farmer”.
Prowse was full of praise for Jones’ vocals. He reportedly fell out with George Lucas later on but his place in the ‘Star Wars’ universe was assured. ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) and ‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983) all featured Prowse.
Any hopes the star had that his face would be unveiled at the end of Episode VI were dashed – Sebastian Shaw took the part of a scarred Anakin Skywalker for the grand finale.
The man who embodied Vader went on to attend numerous conventions, where he received a warm welcome from fans. Yet there was more to him than a screen baddie.
For a decade before the Force came calling, he’d been known countrywide as the Green Cross Code Man. Between 1967 and 1990 he taught children how to avoid traffic safely, in a series of public information films. Prowse referred to the role as one of his proudest achievements. He was awarded an MBE for his work.
Born David Charles Prowse in Bristol 1935, he was raised on a housing estate. Father Charles passed away, leaving mother Gladys to raise a strapping son. He got into weight training after suffering osteoarthritis as a child. For 2 years he wore a leg brace due to apparent tuberculosis, though this turned out to be a doctor’s error.
Becoming a major talent in British weightlifting, he drew attention to himself. Prowse ended up treading the boards at the theatre before heading to the big and small screens. On TV his CV is full of sci-fi credits, from ‘Doctor Who’ to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Aside from Darth Vader, he also portrayed Frankenstein’s Monster, twice for Hammer Productions and the other time in Bond movie ‘Casino Royale’ (1967).
He worked with wrestlers and ran gyms, earning a reputation as a kind-hearted “giant” behind the scenes. Prowse gave training free of charge to teenager Marina Grant. Like her, he wore callipers during his younger years. “He was an innovator” says Ian Edmed, quoted by BBC News. “There weren’t many gyms in London at the time and it drew people from quite a way.”
Prowse was a superhero as the Green Cross Code Man. But he could have become the Man of Steel, Superman. At least that was the impression he got from producers of the 1978 film. He end up training Christopher Reeve for the iconic part.
His last movie appearance was in 2010’s ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. He retired in 2016. Prowse then appeared in the music video ‘Shields (2017). This sci-fi production proved to be his last role on camera, for musician Jayce Lewis.
He leaves behind wife Norma E. Scammell, who he married in 1963. The couple had 3 children, Steven, James and Rachel. His death was due to a “short illness” writes The Hollywood Reporter.
Prowse’s ‘Star Wars’ co-stars have paid tribute on social media. “He loved his fans as much as they loved him” tweets onscreen son/Luke Skywalker Mark Hamill.
“Dave’s iconic figure dominated the finished film in ’77 and has done so ever since” writes Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), who adds “And will continue to do so.”
“To the 11yr old me he was a true hero” tweets franchise favorite Warwick Davis. “Now one with the Force.”
Another Article From Us: Christmas Classic ‘Fairytale of New York’ Edited to Avoid Offending Younger Listeners
“He made Vader leap off the page and on to the big screen” says George Lucas, quoted by ABC News. “David was up for anything”. RIP David Prowse, safety champion, Sith Lord and all-round strong man.