Kenny Baker, the actor who helped make R2-D2 one the most lovable and recognizable characters in cinema history, has passed away at 83.
Baker, who was 3 feet 8 inches tall, first stepped into the astromech droid suit in 1977 to debut as R2-D2 in Episode IV — A New Hope. He continued in the role in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983, but served in a lesser role for the prequel trilogy, when the character was mainly portrayed using radio control and CGI. Aside from his Star Wars fame, Baker had roles in The Goonies, Time Bandits, Flash Gordon, Willow, and Labyrinth.
Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill was among Baker’s former castmates who took to social media to pay tribute to the actor.
Goodbye #KennyBaker A lifelong loyal friend-I loved his optimism & determination He WAS the droid I was looking for! pic.twitter.com/rd94OEYaHi
— @HamillHimself (@HamillHimself) August 13, 2016
The Guardian, which confirmed his death, wrote that Baker’s niece, Abigail Shield, said her uncle’s death had been expected but is sad nonetheless.
“He had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair. He was [doing] very poorly for a long time,” Shield told The Guardian.
She added that he was asked to attend the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere in Los Angeles, but he was too ill to travel. He was able to meet up with George Lucas in Manchester, however.
Baker grew up in Birmingham, England, and was told as a child that because of his size and expected health complications, he would not survive through puberty.
“Being a little person in those times, they didn’t have very good life expectancy,” Shield told The Guardian. “He did extremely well in his life. He was very ill for the last few years so we had been expecting it.
Shield added that one of Baker’s nephews had been looking after him, who discovered that he had died Saturday morning.
“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,” Shield said. “We’re all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime.”
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