David Prowse, the 6-foot, 7-inch strongman who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies, has died at age 85, his agent confirmed.

Although the Vader character was voiced by James Earl Jones, and his death scene in Return of the Jedi was performed by Sebastian Shaw, Prowse was credited for creating the dominant physical presence of the classic sci-fi villain.

Despite helping make the Star Wars movies a success, he had a troubled history with the production. He was accused of having leaked the plot line that Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father, although he said it had been a “lucky guess” given to fans a year before the script had been written. He was also accused of having leaked the line that Vader would die while Return of the Jedi was under production, which he denied. A journalist involved with publishing the story later said it hadn’t come from Prowse; but the actor reported: “That ruined my association with Star Wars… I was ostracized while on the movie, the producer and director wouldn’t work with me, and [George] Lucas wouldn’t speak to me. I had six weeks of purgatory.” His relationship with creator George Lucas eventually collapsed and, in 2010, he was forbidden to take part in official fan events. The events were explored in 2015 documentary I Am Your Father.

Before Star Wars, he’d been seen as Frankenstein’s Monster in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale, and played the same role in two Hammer horror movies. He’d also been a security guard in A Clockwork Orange and the Black Knight in Jabberwocky. On TV he had parts in Doctor Who, Space: 1999 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

However, Prowse was best known – in the U.K. at least – for appearing as the Green Cross Code Man for 14 years. The superhero-like character was the frontman for the government’s road safety campaign, where he reinforced “stop, look, listen, think” messages of caution via public service announcements. He was granted an M.B.E. honor for his work in 2000. “[W]e actually reduced the road accidents by half,” he said later. “They went down from 40,000 a year to less than 20,000. And we’d actually saved something in the region of a quarter of a million children’s lives with the campaign.”

He revealed that he’d nearly lost the role after singing up to play Vader. “[A]s soon as the government knew I was the evil villain of Star Wars, they were going to sack me, because they thought my image as the evil villain would have a detrimental effect on this goody-goody Green Cross Code man character,” he recalled. “But exactly the opposite happened. And all the kids knew the Green Cross Code Man was really Darth Vader, of course all the kids loved Darth Vader. And it was Darth Vader talking to them about road safety. And that was one of the successes of the campaign.”

Green Cross Code Man PSA

Prowse had suffered a series of health issues, partly related to his size and strenuous life style, and he’d retired in 2016. “May the force be with him, always!" his agent, Thomas Bowington, told the BBC. “Though famous for playing many monsters, for myself, and all who knew Dave and worked with him, he was a hero in our lives.” He added that the death was “a truly and deeply heart-wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world.”

 

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