How on earth – or even in a galaxy far, far away – do you mourn, let alone eulogize, a modern day icon? That’s the question I’m asking myself this morning with the breaking news from The Hollywood Reporter about the passing of English actor and gentleman David Prowse who climbed to fame as the conflicted Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. Mr. Prowse died yesterday morning at the age of 85 after a bout with a short illness.
Actor par excellence James Earl Jones may have given voice to the father of perennial hero Luke Skywalker in director George Lucas’s legendary space opera, but it was the imposing physicality of the towering Prowse – standing 6’6 at last count – that enabled the character of Anakin Skywalker (A.K.A. Darth Vader) to fully and completely come to life and inhabit the fantasies of Star Wars fanatics the world over.
Beginning life as a bodybuilder and weightlifter of much acclaim, David Prowse graduated from life as a club bouncer and resident tough guy – with a heart of gold – to that of an accomplished thespian when no less of a film auteur as Stanley Kubrick cast him in the role of Julian for his masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. From there it was but a small step into the hearts of Hammer Film fans with his delightfully cheesy work in the 1972 trifle Vampire Circus. But not even those attention-getting parts could garner an iota of the spotlight that Prowse’s interpretation of Darth Vader lovingly bequeathed him. With his first line of dialogue in the 1977 release of Star Wars, immortality seemed to be a given for the man and there was really no looking back from that moment on. Bigger things awaited this big man such as work in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and the final two installments in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Perhaps it is best to leave any final summation of Mr. Prowse and his remarkable career to the man that played his son in the Lucas films, Mark Hamill: “So sad to hear David Prowse has passed. He was a kind man and much more than Darth Vader. Actor-Husband-Father-Member of the Order of the British Empire-Three time British Weightlifting Champion and Safety Icon the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him. Rest in Peace.”