Numerous sources have reported the death of Bob Anderson, the Olympic fencer who enjoyed a prolific career choreographing some of cinema’s most memorable sword-fights for stars ranging from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp—and even participating in them himself, as when he donned the Darth Vader suit for the famed lighstaber duels of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Anderson died of unspecified causes at the age of 89.
Shortly before representing Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics, Anderson was offered his first fight choreography job on the film The Master Of Ballantrae, where he was tasked with coaching veteran swashbuckler Errol Flynn. During rehearsal Anderson accidentally slashed Flynn across the thigh, instantly creating his reputation as “the man who stabbed Errol Flynn”—though, thanks to Flynn stepping in to claim responsibility for his own slip-up, Anderson’s career certainly didn’t suffer from the notoriety.
As partially documented recently in the 2009 documentary Reclaiming The Blade, Anderson went on to enjoy several decades of steady work as Hollywood’s most respected sword master, choreographing fights and doing stunt work on films such as The Guns Of Navarone, Highlander, Barry Lyndon, The Three Musketeers, The Mask Of Zorro (and its sequel The Legend Of Zorro), the Bond films From Russia With Love and Die Another Day (as well as the 1967 spoof Casino Royale), Pirates Of The Caribbean, and all of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings movies, including the upcoming The Hobbit. He was also responsible for the sword-fight scenes from The Princess Bride, which is pretty much all the accomplishment anyone in his position would ever need, really.
Though credited with behind the scenes work, Anderson’s on-screen role in the original Star Wars trilogy was, for many years, something of a secret: According to IMDb, Anderson (who also had a small appearance in Empire as an “Imperial Officer”) put on lifts to stand in for the much taller David Prowse, whose own proficiency with a blade was sorely lacking. Yet in a later interview, Mark Hamill claimed that George Lucas had always insisted on keeping Anderson’s contributions unacknowledged, not wanting to take more away from Prowse’s performance (which was arguably already marginalized by James Earl Jones’ imposing voiceover). Thanks to Hamill’s insistence on paying credit where credit is due, Anderson finally got his recognition for his part in two of filmdom’s most iconic duels—duels that can, in fact, only be measured against all the other great duels he staged in his impressive career.