The British actor who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars films has died at the age of 81 after a long illness. Kenny Baker, who was 3ft 8in tall, shot to fame in 1977 when he first played the robot character.
He went on to play the character in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the three Star Wars prequels from 1999 to 2005. He also appeared in a number of other much loved films in the 1980s, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon.
His niece, Abigail Shield, paid tribute to her uncle. She told the Guardian: “It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless. He had a very long and fulfilled life. He brought lots of happiness to people and we’ll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world. We’re all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime.”
Baker and Shield’s father, Ian, grew up in Birmingham. She said: “When he was a child, he was told that he probably wouldn’t survive through puberty, being a little person in those times, they didn’t have a very good life expectancy. He did extremely well in his life. He was very ill for the last few years so we had been expecting it. He had been looked after by one of his nephews, who found him on Saturday morning.”
Baker met his wife Eileen after an appearance on the Michael Parkinson TV chat show. She wrote in and said she was a little person too and wanted to meet him. “They got married soon after,” Shield said. “Sadly she died of epilepsy about 20 years ago.”
Shield added: “He had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair. He was very poorly for a long time. He was asked to go out to LA for the new Star Wars premiere, but he was told he was too ill to travel. Luckily he did manage to meet George Lucas again when he came to Manchester.”
Baker’s agent, Johnny Mans, said he had known him since the 1960s when they were both club entertainers. “He was part of a double act called the Mini-Tones, his partner being Jack Purvis, who sadly died after an accident with his car. We worked together in summer shows and charity events before I went on to become his agent, and his then wife Eileen and Kenny also became great friends with my own family, with Kenny visiting my home on numerous occasions.
“Kenny also went on as a solo artiste and then eventually moved into films. Kenny was truly a great friend, one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet, and a fabulous and talented performer. My wife and family will miss him terribly.”
The film company that made the movies, 20th Century Fox, posted a photograph of C3PO standing next to Baker’s Star Wars character, and wrote: “Rest in peace, Kenny Baker, the heart and soul of R2D2.”
Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars film trilogy, paid tribute on Twitter, writing:
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) August 13, 2016
SOURCE: The Guardian