Kenny Baker, the man who brought Star Wars droid R2-D2 to life, has died at the age of 81. The 3ft 8 inch actor portrayed the beloved droid in Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and also the prequels before returning as s consultant for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Baker’s niece Abigail Shield 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 always faced challenges, even from a young age. Shield 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.”
His wife, Eileen he met through a television show. She saw him and wrote to him saying she wanted to meet him and that she was a little person as well. They were married soon after that and were together until her death 20 years ago from epilepsy.
Throughout his career he appeared in other films like The Goonies, Time Bandits, and Flash Gordon.
Towards the end of his life things got more difficult. Shield shared, “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.”
Kenny Baker was also able to attend the European premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Mark Hamill, who worked with Baker extensively during Star Wars, had this to say on twitter about Baker’s death:
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) August 13, 2016
This article has been updated to correct Kenny Baker’s age. According to his website, he was 81 and not 83 at the time of his death.