RIP 'Star Wars' actor Kenny Baker, the man who made R2-D2 real
The Guardian reported the actor "has died at the age of 81 after a long illness." [UPDATE: The Guardian previously stated he was 83] Baker, who also played Paploo the Ewok in the Star Wars franchise, also had roles in Labyrinth, Time Bandits, and Flash Gordon.
His niece Abigail Shield told 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.” Baker's wife Eileen passed away in 1993, they had two children.
R2-D2 was created by George Lucas, designed by Ralph McQuarrie, co-developed by John Stears, built by Tony Dyson, and had vocal effects from Ben Burtt. Baker was in the R2-D2 suit for the original trilogy and portions of the prequels. He also served as a consultant on The Force Awakens.
From a piece celebrating his 80th birthday a few years on StarWars.com:
Born in 1934 in Birmingham, England, Kenny Baker celebrated his 80th birthday at the end of August and with it, 64 years in show business.
At 16 he was performing with Burton Lester’s Midgets and later joined Billy Smart’s Circus as a clown and shadow Ringmaster. He then spent almost a decade appearing on and off the ice performing in dazzling ice shows and pantomimes. It was after this that he then formed The Minitones, a musical comedy act with friend Jack Purvis, which toured the country performing cabaret twice nightly.
It was only then that he landed the role of R2-D2 (Artoo) in Star Wars, some 27 years after his career began, insisting that he’d only take on the role if something was found for Jack, too. Both went on to appear in all three of the original trilogy films and Kenny reprised his role for the prequels, as well as for the Disney ride Star Tours, and he’s also returning to Star Wars for Episode VII.
The news is slowly spreading of his passing but Lucasfilm Creative/ tory Development Executive Pablo Hidalgo shared some sentiments on Twitter:
I've made it no secret that R2-D2 was my first Star Wars love. RIP Kenny Baker who helped bring life to my hero.— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) August 13, 2016
Kenny had health issues for some time. Many times, we'd say Oh, you don't have to go to Celebration, sir! Relax!' And he'd still make it!— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) August 13, 2016
He loved it. I'm glad he got to come to so many fan events and see what his contributions meant to people.— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) August 13, 2016
I was just talking about how BB-8 was brought to life for The Force Awakens the other day but Baker's work bringing R2-D2 to life was unparalleled. Out of all the Star Wars characters, R2-D2 is probably the most beloved. Baker's contributions to the franchise and all our childhood's will never be forgotten.