Dave Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died aged 85.

The weightlifter-turned-actor died after a short illness, his agent Thomas Bowington said in a Facebook post.

Mr Prowse won the role playing Vader due to his impressive 1.98 (6' 6") physique.

A native of Bristol in southwest England, his accent was deemed not quite suitable so the part was instead voiced by James Earl Jones.

"May the force be with him, always!" Mr Bowington said in a statement to 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."

Darth Vader appeared in the first Star Wars movie in 1977 as a heavy-breathing Sith Lord, a leading member of the Dark Side of the Force.

He was revealed to be Anakin, the father of Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), in the follow-up movie The Empire Strikes Back.

Mr Hamill said on Twitter that Mr Prowse "loved his fans as much as they loved him".

Dave Prowse as a weightlifting star in the 1970s when he was hired to star as Darth Vader

He remembered him as a "kind man" who was "much more than Darth Vader".

Mr Bowington called his death, after a short illness, "a truly and deeply heart-wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world".

Awarded an MBE for playing the Green Cross Code Man to promote road safety, the actor represented England in weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games in the early 1960s before embarking on an acting career.

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker with Dave Prowse as his father, Darth Vader

He was reportedly spotted by Star Wars director George Lucas when playing a bodyguard in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, and invited to audition for the roles of Darth Vader and Chewbacca.

He once told the BBC he chose Vader over his hairy co-star because "you always remember the bad guys".

Dave Prowse pictured in 2015 while promoting the documentary I Am Your Father

In 2015, Mr Prowse appeared in a documentary called I Am Your Father. The film aimed to give more recognition to the man behind the famous black Darth Vader mask. The actor's face never appeared on screen.

Actor Daniel Logan, who played Boba Fett in Star Wars: Episode II Attack Of The Clones, posted a picture to Twitter with Dave Prowse, writing: "Sad to hear of the passing of a #StarWars family member. RIP Dave Prowse.

"Darth Vader wouldn't be the same without you in the costume. We had many fun times & laughs at cons together over the years.

"Glad to have been able to call you a friend. Rest now and be one with the Force!"