It was announced that British actor Kenny Baker died at the age of 81 after fighting a long time illness. The actor who gave life to the famous droid R2-D2 in the Star Wars franchise died just eleven days before his 82nd birthday in Manchester, United Kingdom.
The 3-foot-8-inch actor entered the entertainment business in 1950. He had his golden opportunity in 1977 when he appeared George Lucas’ original Star Wars as R2-D2, one of the most remarkable characters of the movie franchise and he continued to interpret the robot until Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. Representatives at Lucas film confirmed Saturday Baker’s death after the actor’s niece, Abigail first announced his death to The Guardian on Saturday.
“It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless. He had a very long and fulfilled life”, she said. “We’re all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime”.
The man behind R2D2
Kenny Baker was born in Birmingham (UK) on August 24, 1934. Even though he was a dwarf, his parents were average height. He began performing in 1950, according to his web page, when a lady approached him on the street to invite him to participate in a theatrical group at Burton Lester’s Midgets. He worked in theater, in the circus as a clown and a ringmaster during a short period of time, and as DJ. He learned ice-skating which he used to perform in ice shows.
Later he was part of a comedy act in a nightclub called the Minitones with Jack Purvis, who was also an English dwarf actor who died in 1997 and also played one of the Jawas in Star Wars. Was at that moment, when George Lucas invited Kenny to be the man who gave life and soul to R2-D2 in the first film of Star Wars in 1976. Baker appeared as R2d2 in six of the episodes of Star Wars, without a doubt one of the most iconic and memorable robots in the film industry. He also played an additional role in the Return of the Jedi film (1983) as Paploo, the Ewok who steals an Imperial speeder bike.
In the 70s and 80s, there weren’t the techniques and technologies we have now, so to interpret R2-D2, the actor had to slip inside the hollowed out models of the robot to make him shudder, wobble, and spin. Tough it is well known that in the movies R2-D2 is likely to be seen with C-3PO, a character with whom R2-D2 has multiple disagreements with, Baker in real life had as well a publicly tense relationship with his co-worker, actor Anthony Daniels- who performed C-3PO in the franchise- claiming that Daniels was constantly very rude to him and even to fans.
On the other hand, Baker developed during the years in Star Wars a strong friendship with Peter Mayhew, the Chewbacca actor. They said to the press that as the shortest and the tallest actors on set they had a lot of experiences to share from antagonist perspectives. Mayhew is 7-foot-2 tall while Baker is 3-foot-8-inch tall.
Baker after R2-D2
Though R2D2 character was the most important of Baker’s career and the one which gave him international recognition, the actor had other roles outside Star Wars such as in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981), Willow, -both alongside Purvis-, The Elephant Man, Flash Gordon, Amadeus, Labyrinth, and others. He also appeared in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa (1986).
He got married in 1970 with actress Eileen Baker, who co-worked with the actor in Wombling Free, until her death in 1993. Though Eileen was also a dwarf, they had two average size children. Eileen Baker also joined Kenny in Star Wars, interpreting one of the Ewoks in the Return of the Jedi. According to Baker’s website, he helped the Shaftesbury Society, which is a Christian NGO that takes care of disabled youth.
Baker worked in all the first six movies of Star Wars. However, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in December 2015, it was announced that Baker would not be performing R2-D2 as usual, being replaced by actor Jimmy Vee. Nonetheless, Baker -with an advanced age- worked in the recent movie as a consultant.
He was invited to the Force Awakens’ premiere in Los Angeles last December, but he was too ill and old to travel from the UK. George Lucas visited Baker in Manchester later. However, even after his death, Baker will be remembered by fans; his contribution to entertainment has already 40 years.
“He brought lots of happiness to people and we’ll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world,” said Abigail, his niece, to the media.
Source: Entertainment Weekly