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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.

___

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

Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press





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Theatre star Nick Cordero dies at 41 after months of complications from COVID-19

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TORONTO — Hamilton-raised theatre star Nick Cordero, who had legions of supporters rallying for him on social media during his harrowing health battle with COVID-19, has died in Los Angeles.

His wife, dancer-turned-celebrity personal trainer Amanda Kloots, said Cordero died on Sunday morning, “surrounded in love by his family.”

He was 41.

“My heart is broken as I cannot imagine our lives without him,” Kloots wrote on Instagram. “Nick was such a bright light. He was everyone’s friend, loved to listen, help and especially talk. He was an incredible actor and musician. He loved his family and loved being a father and husband.”

The Tony Award-nominated actor, singer and musician first entered hospital in L.A. at the beginning of April with what was seemingly a case of pneumonia, said Kloots.

Doctors suspected it was the novel coronavirus and administered three tests for it.

The first two tests came back negative and the third was positive for COVID-19.

The disease ravaged his body, according to Kloots, who kept the world updated on his situation daily with posts on her Instagram account.

She said doctors described his lungs as being riddled with holes and looking as if he’d been smoking for 50 years, even though he wasn’t a smoker.

He had a lingering lung infection and major complications from the disease, including blood pressure problems and clotting issues that led to the amputation of his right leg.

Cordero was in an intensive care unit on various machines to help support his heart, lungs and kidneys.

He was in a medically-induced coma but had come out of it before his death.

Kloots put on a brave face on her Instagram account, posting positive messages and often appearing with their son, Elvis, who just had his first birthday.

She encouraged everyone to play Cordero’s song “Live Your Life” to help send positive vibes for him into the universe.

Her plea spurred countless Instagram users, including some celebrities and Broadway stars, to post videos of themselves dancing to “Live Your Life” and performing various incarnations of it.

Kloots said that on Sunday, she sang the song to him in person, holding his hands.

As I sang the last line to him, ‘they’ll give you hell but don’t you (let) them kill your light not without a fight. Live your life,’ I smiled because he definitely put up a fight,” she wrote.

Along with her daily “Nick update” on her account, Kloots also often told heartwarming stories of their relationship and life together.

She said they struck up a relationship while they were performing on the Great White Way in “Bullets Over Broadway,” which earned him the Tony nomination.

Cordero grew up in Hamilton’s west end and attended Ryerson University for acting.

He was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his role in the musical “A Bronx Tale.” His other stage credits included “Rock of Ages.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press


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Tories, NDP at odds over federal spending as Liberals prepare fiscal snapshot

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OTTAWA — Opposition parties have laid out their demands for the federal Liberal government as Ottawa prepares to update Canadians on the country’s finances after four months of COVID-19 — and where it expects the economy to head for the rest of the year.

Wednesday’s fiscal snapshot will be the first public assessment of the country’s economic and financial situation since the pandemic started in earnest in March, forcing provinces into lockdown and the Liberal government to start doling out billions in aid in lieu of a federal budget.

The snapshot is expected to give an idea of how the government sees the rest of the fiscal year playing out, including figures for a potential deficit.

But the Conservatives and NDP made clear Sunday that they want more than just numbers: they want action. That includes additions, changes and expansions to federal COVID-19 support programs along with more accountability and transparency.

Yet while the Conservatives also called for the Liberals to produce a plan to get government spending under control, the NDP warned against any premature efforts to cut federal assistance.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre on Sunday blasted the Liberals’ handling of the economy while small business critic James Cumming underscored the importance of accurate fiscal projections and planning from the government for Canadian business.

“What business needs as they start to open up is some level of certainty,” Cumming said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.

“They need to understand what the government’s finances are to understand how long these programs are going to last to assist them and when they will be starting to phase out. And a lot of that has a lot to do with the financial health of the government.”

Federal figures last week showed direct government spending on COVID-19 supports at just over $174 billion, which included another increase to the budget for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. That is now expected to cost $80 billion as eligibility increased to 24 from 16 weeks.

At the same time, Statistics Canada last week reported that the Canadian economy shrank 11.6 per cent in April — the largest monthly drop on record. That follows a 7.5 contraction in gross domestic product in March. Both are expected to hit Ottawa’s bottom line through lost tax revenue.

Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux has previously predicted that the increased spending and lost revenue could combine to see the federal deficit top $250 million this year.

With COVID-19 in retreat across most of the country — at least for the moment — Poilievre said it was time for the Liberals to produce a plan to start getting what he described as Ottawa’s “fiscal mess” under control.

That includes weaning Canadians off the CERB and getting them back to work by phasing out the $2,000-per-month benefit based on how much they earn rather than simply cutting off anyone who earns more than $1,000 in a month.

“The government is punishing Canadians for working,” Poilievre said. “We think that people on it should be rewarded when they make the courageous decision to go back to work and make a wage.”

Poilievre, who also demanded more money for the federal auditor general’s office to better scrutinize government spending during the pandemic, dismissed suggestions that Ottawa needs to keep the taps wide open to stimulate the economy as it starts to reopen.

He instead took aim at various Liberal policies and regulations around natural-resource development, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as having stunted economic growth and prosperity in Canada.

“Removing these government obstacles is the way you unleash growth and create a cornucopia of opportunity for our workers and businesses that will generate the wealth,” he said. “More deficit spending does not create jobs and growth.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet also called last week for the CERB to be phased out to encourage Canadians to return to work. He made an exception for seasonal workers in the arts, hospitality and agricultural industries who will not earn a full income until next summer.

Yet NDP finance critic Peter Julian warned against any early cut to COVID-19 benefits and support and instead repeated longstanding calls from his party for the federal government to crack down on tax havens and tax wealthy Canadians and businesses to pay for the federal aid.

“There’s been a call for … dealing with the economic and financial fallout of the pandemic through cutting services,” Julian said in an interview.

“We actually believe that now is the time to handle the pandemic from the revenue side. We believe in tackling the tax haven problem, which is more acute in Canada than any other country. And to put in place a wealth tax.”

The NDP is also pressing for the Liberals to ease the criteria for businesses to access the federal wage subsidy, which covers up to 75 per cent of employees’ salaries, to encourage more hiring. And it wants the government to provide promised support for Canadians living with disabilities.

While the fiscal update will be presented in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Julian said the report itself will not require a vote. However, he suggested NDP support for future legislative proposals from the government could be contingent on the Liberals accepting the NDP’s requests.

The Liberals have leaned heavily on the NDP since being elected to a minority government in October. That included securing NDP support for several confidence motions in the winter and spring that, if defeated, could have triggered a federal election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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