Richard Miller, the famed sculptor whose decades of memorable work at Industrial Light and Magic included creating Princess Leia’s gold bikini for Return of the Jedi and Davy Jones’ tentacled beard for two Pirates of the Caribbean movies, has died. He was 80.
Miller died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday — two days after his birthday — at his home in Northern California, an ILM spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. He was a cancer survivor and died after an extended stay in hospice care.
A dear member of ILM’s extended family, Miller was the lead sculptor and a key staffer in the ILM Creature Shop and later the ILM Model Shop for nearly 30 years. He contributed to 55 features and numerous other projects dating to 1981, when he joined the company to work on 1983’s Jedi, the last installment in the original Star Wars trilogy.
His long list of credits at the studio also included the Star Wars prequels; multiple Star Trek movies including Generations (1994) and First Contact (1996); the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films; and the last two Back to the Future features.
He also contributed to Ghostbusters (1984), Howard the Duck (1986), Innerspace (1987), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Willow (1988), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Rocketeer (1991), Hook (1991), The Mask (1994), Jumanji (1995) and Planet of the Apes (2001).
In Jedi, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia is forced into a skimpy gold bikini by Jabba the Hutt after he captures her in his headquarters on the desert planet Tatooine. She’s also held captive with a chain, which she uses to kill the alien.
“I had to sit very straight because I couldn’t have lines on my sides, like little creases,” Fisher recalled in her 2016 memoir, The Princess Diarist. “No creases were allowed, so I had to sit very, very rigid straight.
“What redeems it is I get to kill him, which was so enjoyable. … I sawed his neck off with that chain that I killed him with. I really relished that because I hated wearing that outfit and sitting there rigid straight, and I couldn’t wait to kill him.”
Miller’s octopus-like beard for Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones, seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean films Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007), had to function like a living creature, so the company employed controls that allowed animators to move the tentacles in specific ways. (Dead Man’s Chest won the Oscar for best visual effects.)
For the past two decades, Miller also taught at ILM, conducting enrichment classes in the art of sculpting.
“With his artistic skill in evidence, an agreeable demeanor and a wry sense of humor, Richard fit right in from the start and became a fixture at ILM,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “Richard will be dearly missed by the entire ILM family, but his artistic contribution lives on in each of the films he contributed to and in the fond memories of all who knew him.”