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Star Wars' Chewbacca actor and NBA champion McNamara dies

The NBA basketball player who picked up a ring as substitute for Moses Malone, was also well known for his time at Málaga, Murcia and Real Madrid, and as a wookie.

Mark McNamara.
Diario AS

The University of California, in Berkeley, reported on Friday the death of a former student and former basketball player, Mark Robert McNamara, who passed away on 27 April at the age of 60 after ten years fighting a rare respiratory condition and various heart problems.

Basketball and Star Wars wookiee

McNamara participated in the filming of Star Wars as Chewbacca, the giant furry wookiee; was an NBA champion in his rookie season (1982-83) as a substitute for Moses Malone in the Philadelphia Sixers; accumulated eight seasons in five teams, including the LA Lakers, and a total of 286 games; and played in Spain for teams including Real Madrid.

The Madrid club’s signing of Mark McNamara, 2.11m and born in San José (California) on June 8, 1959, was celebrated by the press in Spain. Chewbacca had arrived, the emblematic character of Star Wars, the saga written by George Lucas. At that time it was understood that McNamara was the one hiding under the guise of the galactic wookiee. Over the years, though, the real story emerged, and McNamara did not actually appear in the movie credits.

Chewbacca was part of McNamara

What was now an urban legend did have a basis in truth. In June 1979, three months late due to a fire during the recording of Kubrick's The Shining, filming of The Empire Strikes Back began on the same set. It was the sequel to Star Wars, which had been released in 1977.

The first scenes of The Empire Strikes Back were filmed in the frozen lands of Finse, Norway, in harsh conditions for the everyone involved. Those who suffered the most were 2.18m-tall British actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca. His hair-covered suit used to get wet and Mayhew was breathing heavily behind an articulated mask. The consequence of this was that he became ill during the early weeks.

The producers decided to replace the actor with a double and chose Mark McNamara, a basketball player who had been recommended by his cousin, Chris Bowers, a double for Carrie Fisher. He shot several scenes under Chewbacca's fur, however, the material was removed from the final production. Apparently there was a disparity between his movements and Mayhew's.

McNamara was involved again in Return of the Jedi (1983). There he met Harrison Ford and again worked throughout the filming. Again, though, his scenes were not included in the film, but that, by this point, was already just a minor detail. McNamara was indeed Chewbacca and in his later years he lived in an Alaskan town where he made a living as a documentary editor.

Peter Mayhew, the man who's scenes as the large wookiee were included, died almost exactly a year ago to the day, on 30 April 2019.