The British actor who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars films has died at the age of 81 after a long illness. Kenny Baker, who was 3ft 8in tall, shot to fame in 1977 when he first played the robot character. He went on to play the character in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the three Star Wars prequels from 1999 to 2005. He also appeared in a number of other much loved films in the 1980s, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon. 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.
Baker met his wife Eileen after an appearance on the Michael Parkinson TV chat show. She wrote in and said she was a little person too and wanted to meet him. Standing 3 feet 8 inches tall, Baker created Artoo’s much-loved innocent yet adventurous personality from inside the droid, starting with 1977’s A New Hope. Whether it was the slow turn of Artoo’s dome to convey suspicion or nervous wobbles signifying fear, Baker made a robotic being seem very human. In addition, he played Paploo, the Ewok who memorably steals a speeder bike in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. The actor became a legend to Star Wars fans.
Born in Birmingham, England, Baker began acting at age 16. Along with the Star Wars films, his career also includes performances in Lucasfilm’s Willow (1988 ), and more. In 1978, he immortalized Artoo at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, making cement footprints of the droid that remain outside the famed theater today.