Kenny Baker, the man who brought Star Wars’ beloved astromech droid R2-D2 to life has died aged 81, his agent has confirmed.
Birminghan man Baker, who was probably best known for playing C3-PO’s cheeky companion in the space opera, passed away after battling with a long illness.
“I can confirm that after quite a long illness, Kenny Baker has sadly passed away and was found on Saturday morning by his nephew Drew, who was also his carer in the latter part of his life”, Baker’s agent and friend Johnny Mans said in a statement.
Mans reflected on his friendship with Baker, whom he first met in the 1960s when they were both club entertainers.
“He was part of a double act called the Mini-Tones, his partner being Jack Purvis, who sadly died after an accident with his car. We worked together in summer shows and charity events before I went on to become his agent, and his then wife Eileen and Kenny also became great friends with my own family, with Kenny visiting my home on numerous occasions.”
“We were together just over a year ago at a GOWR charity get-together when we had the pleasure of visiting Buckingham Palace, and met the Queen and Prince Philip.”
Mans paid tribute to the man who he described as “truly a great friend, one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet and a fabulous and talented performer.”
“My wife and family will miss him terribly, and I will never forget the laughs we shared over the years. He was a one-off. There will never be another Kenny Baker.”
Baker’s niece, Abigail Shield, told The Guardian that her uncle’s passing was very sad but not unexpected.
“It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless. He had a very long and fulfilled life” she 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.”
“He did extremely well in his life,” Shield added. “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.”
Baker, who was 3ft 8 inches tall, played R2 in all three original Star Wars films, and in all three prequels. He was credited as R2-D2 consultant on Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
George Lucas took time to pay tribute to Baker via the official Star Wars website. “Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances,” Lucas said. “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.”
“We’re all saddened to learn of Kenny’s passing,” said Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. “There is no Star Wars without R2-D2, and Kenny defined who R2-D2 was and is. He will be greatly missed.”