Kenny Baker, the 3ft 8in (1.12m) British actor who starred as the mischievous R2-D2 in six Star Wars films, has died at age 81 after a long illness, his niece confirmed. According to Baker’s agent, Johnny Mans, the actor had been ill for a couple of years, and being cared for by his nephew.
When he took on the role of robot R2-D2 in the first Star Wars film in 1977, it made Baker a household name, overnight, alongside Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. In 1978, as R2-D2, Baker placed his footprints into concrete outside Graumann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
He would go on to appear as R2-D2 in The Empire Strikes Back , Return of the Jedi, the three Star Wars prequels, Flash Gorden, The Elephant Man and Terry Gilliam’s 1981 Time Bandits playing Fidget.
Baker started life out in Birmingham, where as a teenager in the 1950’s, he began working in pantomime and a s a circus clown.
Baker originally turned down the role of R2-D2, telling George Lucas,
“I don’t want to be stuck in a robot, what for, for goodness’ sake?
But Baker, at the time was the only one they could find that fit into the costume like a glove. In an interview published on Baker’s website, he recalled George Lucas’s response:
“I said, ‘I’ll help you out, I’ll do you a favor. You’ve got to do it, we can’t find anyone else. You’re small, to get into it [the costume], and you’re strong enough to be able to move in it.”
Baker would go on to compare his costume to placing the lid on a hard boiled egg. But, it would be Sir Alec Guinness involvement in the project that would ultimately convince Baker to sign on.
“I thought if Alec Guinness is in it, he knows more than I do about filming, that’s for sure. It must be a decent film otherwise he wouldn’t be in it.”
In later years he appeared at Star Wars conventions all over the world. One of his last appearances in public was at the Star Wars The Force Awakens premiere in London.
Fans and friends on Twitter:
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) August 13, 2016
So sad to hear one of my dearest friends passed away. Rest in peace Kenny Baker. Love you. Will miss you! pic.twitter.com/FosdwNysGk
— Daniel Logan (@Daniel_Logan) August 13, 2016
So sorry to hear about this. It was lovely working with Kenny. Kenny Baker, Star Wars R2-D2 actor, dies aged 81 https://t.co/9HW6f3MWZl
— Ewan McGregor (@mcgregor_ewan) August 13, 2016
— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) August 13, 2016
— Duff Goldman (@Duff_Goldman) August 13, 2016
You brought life to one of my favourite characters, thank you Kenny Baker. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/9L53J5rN17
— Rahul Kohli (@RahulKohli13) August 13, 2016
— William Regal (@RealKingRegal) August 13, 2016
— Pegg News (@simonpegg) August 13, 2016
When I was a kid nothing inspired me more than Star Wars and Time Bandits. Kenny Baker was a big part of both. Alas. https://t.co/NNh8vjU1NN
— Gary Whitta (@garywhitta) August 13, 2016
— Dominic Monaghan. (@DomsWildThings) August 13, 2016
A great one- And, like Napoleon, his stature was measured not from head-to-ground but head-to-sky. A brilliant man. https://t.co/wQMsQ5Sjoz
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) August 13, 2016