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National Entertainment

Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in the ‘Star Wars’ films, dies at 74

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LOS ANGELES — Peter Mayhew, the towering actor who donned a huge, furry costume to give life to the rugged-and-beloved character of Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” trilogy and two other films, has died, his family said Thursday.

Mayhew died at his home in north Texas on Tuesday, according to a family statement. He was 74. No cause was given.

As Chewbacca, known to his friends as Chewie, the 7-foot-3 Mayhew was a fierce warrior with a soft heart, loyal sidekick to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon.

Mayhew went on to appear as the Wookiee in the 2005 prequel “Revenge of the Sith” and shared the part in 2015’s “The Force Awakens” with actor Joonas Suotamo, who took over the role in subsequent films.

“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character,” Ford said in a statement Thursday. “These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca. We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him… My thoughts are with his dear wife Angie and his children. Rest easy, my dear friend.”

Mayhew defined the incredibly well-known Wookiee and became a world-famous actor for most of his life without speaking a word or even making a sound — Chewbacca’s famous roar was the creation of sound designers.

“He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films,” the family statement said. “But, to him, the ‘Star Wars’ family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.”

Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker alongside Mayhew, wrote on Twitter that he was “the gentlest of giants — A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly. I’m grateful for the memories we shared & I’m a better man for just having known him.”

Born and raised in England, Mayhew had appeared in just one film and was working as a hospital orderly in London when George Lucas, who shot the first film in England, found him and cast him in 1977’s “Star Wars.”

Lucas chose quickly when he saw Mayhew, who liked to say all he had to do to land the role was stand up.

“Peter was a wonderful man,” Lucas said in a statement Thursday. “He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature … and I learned to always let him win. He was a good friend and I’m saddened by his passing.”

From then on, “Star Wars” would become Mayhew’s life. He made constant appearances in the costume in commercials, on TV specials and at public events. The frizzy long hair he had most of his adult life made those who saw him in real life believe he was Chewbacca, along with his stature.

His height, the result of a genetic disorder known as Marfan syndrome, was the source of constant health complications late in his life. He had respiratory problems, his speech grew limited and he often had to use scooters and wheelchairs instead of walking.

His family said his fighting through that to play the role one last time in “The Force Awakens” was a triumph.

Even after he retired, Mayhew served as an adviser to his successor Suotamo, a former Finnish basketball player who told The Associated Press last year that Mayhew put him through “Wookiee boot camp” before he played the role in “Solo.”

Mayhew spent much of the last decades of his life in the United States, and he became a U.S. citizen in 2005.

The 200-plus-year-old character whose suit has been compared to an ape, a bear, and Bigfoot, and wore a bandolier with ammunition for his laser rifle, was considered by many to be one of the hokier elements in the original “Star Wars,” something out of a more low-budget sci-fi offering.

The films themselves seemed to acknowledge this.

“Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?!” Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, says in the original “Star Wars.” It was one of the big laugh lines of the film, as was Ford calling Chewie a “fuzzball” in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

But Chewbacca would become as enduring an element of the “Star Wars” galaxy as any other character, his roar — which according to the Atlantic magazine was made up of field recordings of bears, lions, badgers and other animals — as famous as any sound in the universe.

“Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together,” Ford said in his statement.

Mayhew is the third major member of the original cast to die in recent years. Fisher and R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker died in 2016.

Mayhew’s family said he was active with various non-profit groups and established the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which is devoted to alleviating disease, pain, suffering and the financial toll from traumatic events. The family asked that in lieu of flowers, friends and fans donate to the foundation.

Mayhew is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children. A private service will be held June 29, followed by a public memorial in early December at a Los Angeles “Star Wars” convention.

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Follow Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton .

Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press





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National Entertainment

Prosecutors drop groping case against Kevin Spacey

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BOSTON — Prosecutors dropped a case Wednesday accusing Kevin Spacey of groping a young man at a resort island bar in 2016 after the accuser refused to testify about a missing cellphone the defence says contains information supporting the actor’s claims of innocence.

Spacey was charged with indecent assault and battery last year in the only criminal case that has been brought against the actor since his career collapsed amid a slew of sexual misconduct allegations. The two-time Oscar winner was among the earliest and biggest names to be ensnared in the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment that swept across the entertainment and other industries.

Spacey denies groping the man, whose mother first went public with the allegations in 2017.

A phone message seeking comment was left with Spacey’s lawyer.

The actor’s accuser was ordered to take the stand earlier this month after he said he lost the cellphone he used the night of the alleged groping. The defence said it needed the phone to recover deleted text messages it says would help Spacey’s case.

The man denied deleting messages or manipulating screenshots of conversations he provided to investigators. But when he was pressed by the defence about whether he knew that altering evidence is a crime, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination , and the judge said his testimony would be stricken from the record.

The judge then questioned how prosecutors would be able to bring Spacey to trial if the accuser continued to refuse to testify, and prosecutors told the judge they needed time to decide how to proceed.

On Wednesday, Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said in court documents that they were dropping the charge “due to an unavailability of the complaining witness.”

Prosecutors said in an emailed statement that they met with the man and his lawyer Sunday and told him that if he wouldn’t testify in further proceedings, they couldn’t move forward with the case. The man “elected not to waive his right under the Fifth Amendment,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they could further pursue the case and grant the accuser immunity but then they would need more than his uncorroborated testimony.

Furthermore, “a grant of immunity compromises the witness to a degree which, in a case where the credibility of the witness is paramount, makes the further prosecution untenable,” they said.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for the accuser, said in email that the man and his family “have shown an enormous amount of courage under difficult circumstances.” Garabedian said he had no further comment.

The hearing at which the accuser testified came days after the man abruptly dropped a lawsuit he had just recently filed against the actor that sought damages for “severe and permanent mental distress and emotional injuries.” The suit was dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.

The man did not receive a settlement to drop the civil case, his mother said. His lawyer said he dropped it because he was emotionally overwhelmed and wanted only “one roller coaster ride at a time” and so chose to focus on the criminal case.

The man’s mother, former Boston TV anchor Heather Unruh, alleged in 2017 that Spacey got her son drunk and sexually assaulted him at the Club Car, a bar on Nantucket where the teen worked as a busboy.

The man told police he went over to talk to Spacey after his shift because he wanted to get a picture with the former “House of Cards” star. He said Spacey bought him several drinks and tried to persuade him to come home with him before unzipping the man’s pants and groping him for about three minutes.

Unruh’s son told police he tried to move Spacey’s hands, but the groping continued, and he didn’t know what to do because he didn’t want to get in trouble for drinking because he was underage. The man said he fled when Spacey went to the bathroom.

Shortly after Spacey was charged, he posted a video on YouTube in the voice of his “House of Cards” character who was killed off after the sexual misconduct allegations emerged, saying “I’m certainly not going to pay the price for the thing I didn’t do.”

Spacey has faced several other accusations.

His first accuser, actor Anthony Rapp, said Spacey climbed on top of him on a bed when Rapp was 14 and Spacey 26. Spacey said he did not remember such an encounter but apologized if the allegations were true.

The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they are the victims of sexual assault unless they identify themselves publicly. Rapp has; Unruh’s son has not.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkinricher

Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press


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Man screaming ‘You die!’ kills at least 23 at anime studio

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Man yelling You Die kills 23 at Tokyo studio

TOKYO — A man screaming “You die!” burst into an animation production studio in Kyoto, Japan, and set it on fire early Thursday, authorities said, killing 13 people and leaving more than 10 others presumed dead.

The blaze injured another 36 people, some of them critically, Japanese authorities said. Most were workers at Kyoto Animation, known for mega-hit stories featuring high school girls, with places featured in the stories even becoming “pilgrimage sites” for their fans.

The fire started in the three-story building in Japan’s ancient capital after the suspect sprayed an unidentified liquid accelerant, Kyoto prefectural police and fire department officials said.

Thirteen were confirmed dead on the first and second floors, Kyoto fire department official Kazuhiro Hayashi said. On the third floor, more than 10 people were found unresponsive, he said. Some of them were found on the stairs, where they apparently collapsed while gasping for air and trying to go out to the roof.

Hayashi says firefighters were still searching inside the building in case anyone else was left behind.

Kyoto police said the suspect was injured and taken to a hospital for treatment. They are investigating the man, who is 41 and not a company employee, on suspicion of arson, police said.

A witness who saw the suspect being approached by police told Japanese networks that the man admitted spreading gasoline and setting a fire with a lighter. She told NHK public television that the man had burns on his arms and legs and that he was angrily complaining that something of his had been “stolen,” possibly by the company. NHK footage also showed sharp knives police had collected from the scene, though it was not clear if they belonged to the suspect.

Survivors who saw the attacker said he was not their colleague and that he was screaming “(You) die!” when he dumped the liquid and started the fire, according to Japanese media reports. They said some of the survivors got splashed with the liquid.

Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 as an animation and comic book production studio, and its hits include “Lucky Star,” ”K-On!” and “Haruhi Suzumiya.” The company does not have a major presence outside Japan, though it was hired to provide secondary animation work on a 1998 “Pokemon” feature that appeared in U.S. theatres and a “Winnie the Pooh” video.

Footage on Japan’s NHK television showed gray smoke billowing from the charred building. Other footage showed windows blown off.

“There was an explosion, then I heard people shouting, some asking for help,” a female witness told TBS TV. “Black smoke was rising from windows on upper floors, then there was a man struggling to crawl out of the window.”

Witnesses in the neighbourhood said they heard bangs coming from the building, others said they saw people coming out blackened, bleeding, walking barefoot, Kyodo News reported.

Rescue officials set up an orange tent outside the studio building to provide first aid and sort out the injured.

Fire department officials said more than 70 people were in the building at the time of the fire and many of them ran outside.

With at least 23 killed or presumed dead, the fire was the worst mass killing in Japan since a man stabbed and killed 19 people at an assisted living facility in western Tokyo in 2016.

A fire in 2001 in Tokyo’s congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in its worst known case of arson in modern times. Police never announced an arrest for setting the blaze, though five people were convicted of negligence. In 2008, 16 people died in a blaze at a movie theatre in Osaka, near Kyoto.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press













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