Actor Peter Mayhew, who won over fans worldwide as the Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in the Star Wars franchise, has died aged 74.

Mayhew died on Tuesday at his home in Texas, surrounded by loved ones, his family said in a statement released on the actor's Twitter account.

"He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films from his knock-kneed running, firing his bowcaster from the hip, his bright blue eyes, down to each subtle movement of his head and mouth," the statement said.

"But, to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more than a role in a film. The relationships that began then grew into the friends and family that he would love for decades to come."

The towering British-born actor, the son of a policeman who measured 2.21m (7'3"), was working as a hospital attendant in London when he was discovered by film producer Charles Schneer.

The role was unconventional to say the least - a giant, hairy, 200-year-old humanoid from the planet Kashyyyk. 

Mayhew once joked at a fan convention in 2013 that all he had to do when auditioning for the role of "Chewie" was to show his height.

"In George's office, he had a sofa," he said, referring to "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. "So I sat down on the sofa waiting for him to come in through the door. He and (producer) Gary Kurtz walked in.

"I did the natural thing, I stood up," he added. "Basically, that was the interview. He turned to Gary and said, 'I think we've found him'."

Chewbacca communicated in roars and growls, but Mayhew did not provide the vocals - those signature noises came from a sound engineer.

He was first cast in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, in an uncredited role.

But he then was cast in the role that would define his career - as the co-pilot and best friend of Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford in the original Star Wars film released in 1977.

Ford paid tribute to the "wit and grace" Mayhew brought to his Star Wars character.

"We were partners in film and friends for over 30 years and I loved him," the actor said in a statement. 

"He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience. Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together."

Mayhew would go on to appear in The Empire Strikes BackReturn of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith.

The family said he had "fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which was released in 2015.

He then worked to coach his successor in the role, Joonas Suotamo, the family statement said.

Mayhew is survived by his wife Angie and three children.

The family said a memorial service would be held on 29 June and a memorial for fans would take place in early December in Los Angeles at Empire Con, an event for Star Wars fans.

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