Kenny Baker, the British actor who portrayed the fan-favorite “Star Wars” character R2-D2, has died at the age of 81 after a long illness.
“It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless,” his niece Abigail Shield told The Guardian. “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 wasn’t expected to survive puberty, Shield added: “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, who was 3ft 8in tall, first gained fame in 1977 when he played the beloved R2-D2 in “A New Hope.” He went on to reprise the role in the sequels, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” as well as the three “Star Wars” prequels. He met his wife Eileen after an appearance on the Michael Parkinson TV chat show; she wrote the actor, saying that she was a little person too and wanted to meet him. They married soon after; Eileen died of epilepsy about 20 years ago.
According to Shield, Baker had wanted to attend the Los Angeles world premiere of “The Force Awakens,” but his doctors deemed him “too ill to travel.” The actor was able to attend the London premiere. “He had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair… Luckily he did manage to meet George Lucas again when he came to Manchester.”
Baker’s career spanned over five decades; he appeared in such films as “The Elephant Man,” “Time Bandits” and “Flash Gordon.”