Bob Anderson, who fenced for England in the Olympics and went on to help create some of Hollywood’s greatest sword fights, choreographing bladework and coaching actors from Errol Flynn to Antonio Banderas, and who appeared on-screen himself as Darth Vader, crossing lightsabers with Mark Hamill (as Luke Skywalker) in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, died on Sunday in West Sussex, England. He was 89.
Philip Bruce, president of the British Academy of Fencing, confirmed the death.
Mr. Anderson was a superior and versatile athlete who as a sailor in the Royal Marines in the 1940s won interservice fencing championships with all three of the sport’s weapons — foil, épée and saber. Saber, a flat-bladed weapon with which points are scored by striking with the side of the blade, was his specialty. (In foil and épée only the tip of the swords are used to score.) Mr. Anderson represented Great Britain at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and twice in the world championships in the saber competition.
Just before the Olympics, Mr. Anderson was asked to be a fight choreographer and stunt double for the film “Master of Ballantrae,” an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling tale of an 18th-century Scottish lord who takes up piracy, Mr. Anderson and the film’s star, Errol Flynn, became great pals in spite of a mishap during which, as the two men were being filmed in a sword fight, Flynn was wounded in the thigh. Flynn immediately took responsibility for the accident, though Mr. Anderson was thereafter known as the man who stabbed Errol Flynn.
Over the next several decades Mr. Anderson became well-known in Hollywood as a sword master — part instructor, part stuntman, part fight choreographer. With a reputation as a perfectionist, he earned the nickname “Grumpy Bob.”
Among many other projects, he worked with James Bond (a k a Sean Connery) on “From Russia with Love” (1963); with Ryan O’Neal in Stanley Kubrick’s picaresque 19th-century drama based on a novel by Thackeray, “Barry Lyndon” (1975); with Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin, who played ambidextrous combatants in “The Princess Bride” (1987); with Aramis, Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan (Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt and Chris O’Donnell) in “The Three Musketeers” (1993); with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in “The Mask of Zorro” (1998) and “The Legend of Zorro” (2005); and with the director Peter Jackson on the epic Medieval fantasy “The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring” (2001).
Most famously, Mr. Anderson worked on George Lucas’s original “Star Wars” trilogy. He played a behind-the-scenes role in the first film, “Star Wars” (1977), but in the next two, “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “The Return of the Jedi” (1983), he appeared on-screen as the evil, black-helmeted Darth Vader in the scenes in which he battles the young hero, Luke, who is secretly his son, with sabers whose blades are laserlike lights.
He was uncredited in the part; the role was voiced by James Earl Jones and played by David Prowse, a hulking actor, 6 feet 7 inches tall, who was simply not good with a saber. Mr. Anderson stepped in, and though he was six inches shorter than Mr. Prowse, his identity was a secret until Mark Hamill disclosed it in an interview.
“I finally told George I didn’t think it was fair any more,” Mr. Hamill told Starlog, a science fiction magazine. “Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition.” Robert James Gilbert Anderson was born on Sept. 15, 1922, in Hampshire, England, southwest of London. Survivors include his wife, Pearl, three children and several grandchildren.
In addition to his film work, Mr. Anderson was for many years the coach of Great Britain’s national fencing team, and he was also, in the 1960s and 1970s, president of the British Academy of Fencing, which oversees the training of fencing coaches in the United Kingdom. A statement by the academy on Monday said, in part: “It is true to say that nearly 100 percent of fencing in Britain today is directly or indirectly attributable to the work of this man.”