Kenny Baker, the actor who portrayed the robot R2-D2 in six Star Wars films, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 81.
Baker’s niece Abigail Shield confirmed the actor’s death to the Guardian. “It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless. He had a very long and fulfilled life,” Shield said. “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.”
“Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances,” George Lucas said in a statement on the Star Wars site. “A talented vaudevillian who could always make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him.”
The 3-foot, 8-inch Baker started his career as a circus performer and comic actor before Star Wars director Lucas cast Baker for the role of R2-D2. Alongside actor Anthony Daniels, who played servant droid C-3PO, Baker operated the hulking R2-D2 costume for six feature films, from 1977’s A New Hope to 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, as well as appearances in commercials, television cameos, the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special and Star Tours.
Although the R2-D2 role brought Baker fame among Star Wars fanatics, the actor didn’t have an especially good experience filming the sci-fi epics due to the clunky mechanics and excruciating heat he faced while inside the costume. “There weren’t any highlights,” Baker told Star Wars Interviews in 2010. “I was just there, in the droid. I was mainly in the end scenes of every movie. I can’t remember any highs or lows, it was just a job.”
Out of the R2-D2 costume, Baker also appeared in films like The Elephant Man, Time Bandits, Labyrinth and Amadeus.
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) August 13, 2016
While Baker did not reprise the role for 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he did serve as consultant on the film. Baker was invited to attend the blockbuster’s Los Angeles premiere in December but his illness prevented him from traveling to the U.S. Instead, Lucas joined Baker at the film’s European premiere in London.
“We’re all saddened to learn of Kenny’s passing,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said. “There is no Star Wars without R2-D2, and Kenny defined who R2-D2 was and is. He will be greatly missed.”
Baker’s death comes five months after the death of Tony Dyson, the builder of the R2-D2 unit.
Rest in peace, Kenny Baker, the heart and soul of R2-D2. pic.twitter.com/NqOpxotxyK
— 20th Century Fox (@20thcenturyfox) August 13, 2016