Sad news today, folks. Kenny Baker, the British actor who spent decades bringing the beloved Star Wars character R2-D2 to life, has passed away at the age of 81. Baker originated the astromech droid in the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, in 1977 and the 3-foot, 8-inch tall actor reprised the lovable little droid in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and all three of George Lucas‘ prequel films (with the help of computer animation), and acted as “R2-D2 consultant” on The Force Awakens.
In addition to his work as one of Star Wars‘ most iconic characters (and his lesser-known turn as the Ewok, Paploo, in Return of the Jedi), Baker appeared in Labyrinth, Time Bandits, Flash Gordon, Willow, Amadeus and The King and I.
Baker’s niece, Abigail Shield, confirmed his passing in a statement to 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.”
While the news of Baker’s passing is indeed sad, we’re lucky to have had the actor as long as we did. Shield also recalled how doctors initially told Baker he wouldn’t live to see adulthood.
“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.”
However, as we well know, Baker not only survived past puberty but went on to craft one of the most beloved characters in cinema history — all from inside a robotic suit. Impressive, most impressive. Rest in peace, Mr. Baker and thank you. Our deepest condolences go out to Mr. Baker’s family and loved ones.