Kenny Baker, who brought R2-D2 to life in six “Star Wars” films over almost four decades has died after battling a long illness, his agent has confirmed.
He was less than two weeks away from his 82nd birthday, according to Baker’s website.
His body was discovered on Saturday morning by a nephew, who had been looking after him, said his agent, Johnny Mans.
The 3-foot-8-inch actor secured his big break in the first installment of the space saga in 1977 after performing in circus and cabaret shows around England. Baker would go on to play the world’s most personable droid in the “Star Wars” sequels and prequels, as well as consulting on 2015’s “The Force Awakens.”
Although he was unable to attend the film’s Los Angeles premiere due to his illness, he did make an appearance at its European premiere in a wheelchair, posing with Stormtroopers on the red carpet.
Apart from the “Star Wars” franchise, Baker also appeared in a variety of popular films throughout the 1980s, including “Flash Gordon,” “Time Bandits” and “Labyrinth.”
“Kenny was truly a great friend, one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet and a fabulous and talented performer,” said Mans. “My wife and family will miss him terribly, and I will never forget the laughs we shared over the years. He was a one-off. There will never be another Kenny Baker.”
Baker’s niece, Abigail Shield, told The Guardian that his death was sad, but expected, as his illness had worsened significantly in recent years.
“He had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair,” she said. “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.”
Shield also notes that, because of his stature, Baker’s family didn’t expect him to survive after puberty, let alone make a name for himself in Hollywood.
“He had a very long and fulfilled life,” she continued. “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’s collaborators on “Star Wars” and others simply touched by his legacy rushed to pay tribute to the fallen actor on social media and beyond with heartfelt remembrances. His co-star Mark Hamill praised his determination and optimism, while director George Lucas described him as the “heart and soul of R2-D2.”
”Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances,” Lucas wrote in a statement posted by New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff. “A talented vaudevillian who could always made everybody laugh, Kenny was the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him.”
This article has been updated to include reactions from Baker’s collaborators.