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David Prowse, towering actor who played Darth Vader in 'Star Wars,' dies at age 85

"A loving husband, father and grandfather. May the force be with him, always!" his agent said Sunday.
Image: Image: I Am Your Father - Photocall - 48th Sitges Fantastic Film Festival
British actor David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the original "Star Wars" movie trilogy, at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, near Barcelona, Spain, in 2015.Susanna Saez / EPA

David Prowse, the towering actor who terrified generations of movie-watchers as Darth Vader in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, has died at age 85.

He died after a short illness, his agent, Thomas Bowington, confirmed Sunday morning.

"A constant source of inspiration, encouragement and kindness. A truly and deeply heart wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world!" Bowington said in a statement.

Actors Peter Cushing, Carrie Fisher and David Prowse on the set of "Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope."Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images

"A loving husband, father and grandfather. May the force be with him, always!"

Prowse did not provide Vader's voice — that was James Earl Jones — but his muscular 6-foot-6 frame became the embodiment of one of the great movie villains.

Born in Bristol, England, in 1935, Prowse was a competitive weightlifter before he entered show business, winning the British heavyweight lifting championship three years in a row beginning in 1962. His bodybuilding prowess led him to become a personal trainer to various screen stars, including Christopher Reeve while he was preparing for "Superman."

Actor David Prowse, who portrayed Darth Vader, signs autographs during the opening day of Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles on May 24, 2007.Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Prowse had several minor acting roles as monsters and tough guys before his break came courtesy of Stanley Kubrick's controversial and ultraviolent "A Clockwork Orange" in 1971, in which he played a bodyguard. He was also well known to British children in the 1970s as the face of a road safety TV campaign — which earned him an MBE, a civil honor awarded by the royal family to recognize contributions to public life.

But his most memorable role came as George Lucas was casting for 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope."

"George said he could offer me two parts — the first was a hairy gorilla called Chewbacca," Prowse told the Bristol Post on a trip to his home city in 2009.

"I said I wasn't too interested because I didn't want to wear a mask — I wanted to play a part where people could see my face. He said the other part was the central villain, and I told him, 'That will do.' But I never realized the villain would also be wearing a mask!"

Prowse toured the world visiting fan conventions for 40 years until he retired from public life in 2016 because of ill health.

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Prowse's co-stars led tributes to him Sunday, including Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker.