Prowse played the physical form of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. Prowse spoke the dialogue during filming, but Lucas claimed he wanted a "darker voice"—a deeper, more reverberating voice, and had James Earl Jones provide the voice instead, deeming Prowse's West Country accent unsuitable for the character. Prowse claims he was originally told that he would be seen and heard at the end of Return of the Jedi when Vader's mask was removed. Instead, actor Sebastian Shaw was used. In the 2004 documentary Empire of Dreams, actress Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the original trilogy films, quipped that they nicknamed Prowse "Darth Farmer" because of his un-intimidating accent. In the lightsaber fight scenes between Vader and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Prowse, who wasn't a very skilled swordsman (he kept breaking the poles that stood in for the lightsabers), was replaced by the scene's fight-choreographer, the stuntman and fencing coach Bob Anderson. Prowse felt sidelined by Anderson during the making of Return of the Jedi in particular, and claims that he was only able to persuade director Richard Marquand that he should be the one to throw the Emperor off the balcony after Marquand had tried and failed for a week to film the scene successfully without him.
Prowse reprised his role of Darth Vader for the video games Monopoly Star Wars and Star Wars: The Interactive Video Board Game.
Prowse continues to associate himself with his role in the Star Wars films and is involved in the convention circuit. Despite this, he has not been included in recent reunions of the original cast, such as those for the Empire of Dreams documentary and the 2005 Vanity Fair cover. While being interviewed by Kevin Moore of The Moore Show Prime Time, he admitted his dislike for the prequel trilogy and opined that the new films were "out of context in terms of special effects in comparison to the original trilogy".
In July 2007, Prowse joined many others from the Star Wars films for the first ever Star Wars Celebration event held outside the United States. It was run by Lucasfilm Ltd. and the Cards Inc. Group, at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London. The occasion was to mark the 30th anniversary of Star Wars.
Prowse played a small cameo role in Star Wars fan films "Order of the Sith: Vengeance" and its sequel "Downfall" – Order of the Sith – alongside Jeremy Bulloch and Michael Sheard. These fanfilms were made in Britain in support of the charity Save the Children.
In 2008, he was one of the cast members featured on Justin Lee Collins's Bring Back...Star Wars. In the film, Prowse commented that he had a dispute with George Lucas after he allegedly leaked reports of Darth Vader's death to the press. Prowse had previously suggested that Darth Vader could be Luke Skywalker’s father in a speech he gave to UC Berkeley in 1978. However, this was shortly after the release of Star Wars and nearly two years before The Empire Strikes Back (which he considers to be his favourite of the trilogy) was released, and the script had not even been written at the time. Gary Kurtz, the producer of The Empire Strikes Back, said in the 2015 documentary I Am Your Father that Prowse's apparent plot spoiler was simply "a good guess."
Prowse claims his contract for Return of the Jedi included a share of profits on the film, and although it grossed $475 million on a $32 million budget, Prowse explained in an interview in 2009 that he has never received residuals for his performance. Due to "Hollywood accounting", the actual profits are sent as "distribution fees" to the studio, leaving nothing to distribute to others.
In July 2010, Prowse was banned by George Lucas from attending official Star Wars fan conventions. Lucas has reportedly given Prowse no reason, other than stating that Prowse "burnt too many bridges" between Lucasfilm and himself.
A 2015 Spanish documentary, by filmmaker Marcos Cabotá, entitled I Am Your Father, details Prowse's current life and his blackballing by LucasFilm, which the documentary suggests is unjustified. The leaks featured in the documentary originated from a technician working on the films.
Since 2002 Prowse has been an Honorary Member / Honorary Leader of the 501st Legion, a fan group dedicated to Star Wars costuming.
Within the United Kingdom, Prowse is also well known as the Green Cross Code Man, a superhero invented to promote a British road safety campaign for children in 1975. As a result of his association with the campaign, which ran between 1971 and 1990, he received the MBE in 2000.
He had a role as F. Alexander's bodyguard Julian in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, in which he was noticed by the future Star Wars director George Lucas. He played a circus strongman in 1972's Vampire Circus, a Minotaur in the 1972 Doctor Who serial The Time Monster, and an android named Copper in The Tomorrow People in 1973. He appeared in an episode of Space: 1999, The Beta Cloud in 1976 right before he was cast as Darth Vader. Around that time, he appeared as the Black Knight in the Terry Gilliam film Jabberwocky (1977).
He had a small role as Hotblack Desiato's bodyguard in the 1981 BBC TV adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He appeared in the first series of Ace of Wands on LWT and as a bodyguard in the big screen version of Callan. He played Charles, the duke's wrestler, in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of As You Like It in 1978.
Prowse played Frankenstein's monster in three films: Casino Royale, The Horror of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.
Prowse made two uncredited appearances on The Benny Hill Show. On Hill's first show for Thames Television in 1969, he played a briefs-clad muscleman in the "Ye Olde Wishing Well" quickie, and in 1984 he showed off his muscles in a sketch set to the song "Stupid Cupid". The earlier routine was also featured in the 1974 film The Best of Benny Hill, in which he was credited.
Amongst his many non-speaking roles, Prowse played a major speaking role in "Portrait of Brenda", the penultimate episode of The Saint broadcast in 1969.
In May 2010, he played Frank Bryan in The Kindness of Strangers, an independent British film produced by Queen Bee Films. The film screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
Prowse won the British heavyweight weightlifting championship in 1962 and the following two years. He represented England in the weightlifting event at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, Western Australia.
He helped train Christopher Reeve for the role of Superman in the 1978 film and its sequels after lobbying for the part himself. In a television interview, he related how his response to being told "we've found our Superman" was "Thank you very much." Only then was he told that Reeve had been chosen for the role and he was to only be a trainer. He trained Cary Elwes for his role as Westley in The Princess Bride.
In January 2009, Prowse began providing public relations for musician Jayce Lewis, whom he had met some years before. Their friendship later developed into all aspects of business and management. On 1 October 2015 Lewis created a mini documentary titled The Force's Mouth, giving Prowse the chance to finally hear his voice as Darth Vader.
On 13 May 2009, Prowse publicly declared his support for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2009 European Parliament election. Prowse said that "I've looked right and left and right again and the only party I can safely vote for is UKIP," and "...I have two messages for those considering how to vote. Firstly, stop, look and listen to what is being said. Only UKIP is actually telling us the truth about the European Union and why we need to leave it. Secondly, may June the fourth be with you."
Prowse was brought up on the Southmead housing estate in Bristol, winning a scholarship to Bristol Grammar School. In his teens, Prowse was 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm) tall, and developed an interest in bodybuilding. His early jobs included a bouncer at a dance hall, where he met his future wife, and a lifeguard at Henleaze Swimming Pool. Following his successes from 1961 in the British heavyweight weightlifting championship, he left Bristol in 1963 to work for a London weightlifting company.
In 1999, it was rumoured that thieves broke into Prowse's home and stole the lightsaber he used in the Star Wars trilogy and several of his other possessions. However, after a discussion with Prowse on 4 May 2007, he said that the "lightsaber" was actually a toy and not an original prop. He explained that the story printed about the break-in concentrated on the supposed "lightsaber" and not on the jewellery and other valuables taken. He further said that he was never given any of the props from the Star Wars films.
Prowse also became fitness consultant to Harrods, ripped up phonebooks under the stage name ‘Jack the Ripper’, and opened a series of gymnasiums, notably ‘The Dave Prowse Fitness Centre’ in London.
Prowse has been married since 1963 and is the father of three children. He is a prominent supporter of Bristol Rugby Club.
Prowse has suffered from arthritis for much of his life. That has led to replacements of both hips and his ankle being fused, as well as several revisionary surgeries on his hip replacements. Prowse's arthritic symptoms first appeared at age 13, but seemingly disappeared when he took up competitive weightlifting. However, they reappeared in 1990.
In 2001, Prowse's left arm became paralysed, followed by his right. He was diagnosed with septic arthritis caused by an infection which nearly killed him. The amount of surgery he has had drastically reduced his height from the 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm) of his younger days.
Today, Prowse works with various arthritis organisations in Britain and is vice-president of the Physically Handicapped and Able-bodied Association.
In March 2009, Prowse revealed that he was suffering from prostate cancer and has undergone radiation therapy since the beginning of 2009 at the Royal Marsden Hospital in south London. He discovered that he had the cancer following his participation in a charity event in aid of a prostate cancer charity, where a representative of the charity asked whether, as a man over 50, he had had a PSA test. The conversation stayed in his mind, and on a future visit to a general practitioner, he requested the blood test that eventually led to diagnosis. In 2009 he was still in remission.
In November 2014, the Daily Mirror reported that Prowse had dementia. However, Prowse himself denied this, admitting instead he had problems with his memory, which he put down to age.
In September 2017, it was announced on his official website that he would stop making personal appearances or attending conventions starting in January of 2018 citing unspecified health problems
Prowse was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), for his services to charity and to Road Safety, in the 2000 New Year Honours.