Wednesday 7 December 2016

'A fabulous and talented performer' - Tributes paid to Star Wars R2D2 actor who died aged 83

Published 13/08/2016 | 18:48

Kenny Baker attends the European Premiere of
Kenny Baker attends the European Premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)

The actor most famous for immortalising robot R2-D2 in Star Wars, has died at the age of 83.

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Kenny Baker became a household name in 1977 when he starred as the loveable droid in the first Star Wars movie.

He went on to appear with Anthony Daniels' C-3PO character in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the three prequels.

Born in Birmingham, Baker's other films include Time Bandits and Flash Gordon.

The costume worn by Kenny Baker as R2-D2 Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images
The costume worn by Kenny Baker as R2-D2 Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

His niece, Abigail Shield, paid tribute to her uncle. She 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.”

Shield added her uncle had been invited to the premiere of the latest film in Lucas' franchise Star Wars: The Force Awakens in Los Angeles last year but was too unwell to travel. The film was the first live-action Star Wars movie to feature R2-D2 without Baker's involvement.

"He had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair," she said. "He was very poorly for a long time. He was asked to go out to LA for the new Star Wars premiere but he was told he was too ill to travel."

Baker's agent Johnny Mans said: "He will be sadly missed."

Mr Mans said Baker had been ill for a couple of years, adding that he had been cared for by his nephew.

Kenny Baker attends the European Premiere of
Kenny Baker attends the European Premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)

Actor Ewan McGregor, who appeared in three Star Wars movies, tweeted: "So sorry to hear about this. It was lovely working with Kenny."

20th Century Fox posted a photograph of C3PO standing next to Baker's Star Wars character, and wrote: "Rest in peace, Kenny Baker, the heart and soul of R2D2."

Baker's agent Mr Mans said he knew him since 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.

"Kenny also went on as a solo artiste and then eventually moved into films," he said.

Mr Mans said he was with Baker just over a year ago at a charity event at Buckingham Palace where they met the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

"Kenny was 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," he said.

The 3ft 8in (1.12m) actor began performing in 1950 at the age of 16, working as a circus clown and in pantomime.

In later years he has appeared at Star Wars fan conventions across the world.

He was not involved in the latest movies in the Star War series and the role of R2-D2 will be played by British actor Jimmy Vee in the next film due for release in 2017.

His wife Eileen Baker, who was also born with dwarfism, died in 1993.

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