Kenny Baker, the 3-foot, 8-inch tall British actor who played R2-D2 in six Star Wars films, has died after a long illness, his niece told the Guardian. Baker was 81 according to the birthdate on his website, though other news outlets reported that he was 83.
Baker portrayed R2-D2, the affable robot companion to Luke Skywalker, beginning with “A New Hope” in 1977 and in every subsequent Star Wars movie through “Revenge of the Sith” in 2005. The role, in which Baker physically stepped into the R2-D2 robot costume, made him an international sensation. He also served as a consultant on “The Force Awakens,” the most recent addition to the Star Wars franchise.
“I was a godsend to them,” Baker said in a 2014 interview posted to YouTube. “They’d made the robot in rough form, and I was the only one around that was just right for it. I got into it eventually and they put the lid on me … and I had nuts and bolts and screws into my head inside.” (After that, Baker said, they added a protective foam layer to the robot.)
“It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless,” said Abigail Shield, Baker’s niece. ”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.”
In the YouTube interview, Baker said he initially turned down the role of R2-D2. “I don’t need to be stuck in a robot,” Baker recalled saying. Had he known what a success Star Wars would become, Baker said he would have worked for less in the beginning, when franchise creator George Lucas “didn’t have a penny.”
“It’s all in hindsight,” he said, “but I should have done it for nothing.”