Kenny Baker, who became an international star for portraying R2-D2, the lovable iconic droid in the Star Wars franchise, has died after fighting a long illness, according to CNN. He was 81.
Like Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Anthony Daniels, or even James Earl Jones in a way, the British-born Baker became a household name to the immense legions of Star Wars fans, who span almost 45 years of generational adoration for the franchise by donning the instantly recognizable R2-D2 costume. Not many people knew what the diminutive actor looked like in real life, but Star Wars fans wore a proud badge of honor knowing that it was Baker inside the R2 unit, a sort of early trivia nugget before the trivia boom started in the 1980s and never let its grip on popular culture.
At 3 feet, 8 inches tall, Baker managed a career in Hollywood that found him portraying R2-D2 in the first six Star Wars films, the storied legendary trilogy that began in 1977 and its ill-fated prequels that followed starting in the late 1990s. Although he had been told he was too ill to travel to the Los Angeles premiere of last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the actor managed to make the London one, meeting again with franchise creator and wunderkind George Lucas in the process. The gargantuan success of Star Wars led Baker down a path to other Sci-Fi/Fantasy roles in many classics and cult classics of the genres, such as Flash Gordon, Time Bandits, Labyrinth, and even such dramatic fare as The Elephant Man and the Oscar-winning Amadeus. He also made his mark on TV somewhat, popping up here and there, most notably on a Goonies TV series.
Baker’s niece told the British based newspaper The Guardian that her uncle’s death was “expected, but it’s sad nonetheless.” She went on to say that his life was long and fulfilled, and when he was a child, because he was a little person, he wasn’t even expected to live to reach puberty. But, he obviously persevered and brought “lots of happiness to people and we will be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world.” She proudly stated that the family was “very proud at what he achieved in his lifetime.” The actor was reportedly suffering from a lung condition, and was ill for several years, and was mostly wheelchair bound.
The cinematic community also made their heartfelt voices and statements heard in many tributes to Baker, mainly via social media. Baker’s agent, Johnny Maris, who was the one who confirmed Baker’s death to the Associated Press, spoke of Baker being “one of the nicest guys you could ever meet and a fabulous and talented performer.” Others, like Lucas himself and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, also released statements regarding the death and legacy of Baker’s life.
But it was Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, who may have summed it up best of the many tributes from co-stars and fans about the man who was such an integral character in that galaxy far, far away when he wrote in a tweet released on Saturday “Goodbye #KennyBaker A lifelong loyal friend-I loved his optimism & determination He WAS the droid I was looking for!”