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Kenny Baker, Beloved as Star Wars' R2-D2, Dies at 81

  • VOA News

FILE - Britain Star Wars The Force Awakens Premiere: Kenny Baker poses for photographers upon arrival at the European premiere of the film 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens ' in London, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015.

FILE - Britain Star Wars The Force Awakens Premiere: Kenny Baker poses for photographers upon arrival at the European premiere of the film 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens ' in London, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015.

Kenny Baker, the diminutive actor who won worldwide fame as R2-D2, a beloved trash can-shaped robot in the Star Wars movie franchise, has died just two weeks short of his 82nd birthday.

Baker's niece, Abigail Shield, confirmed his death Saturday. She said he had suffered lung problems for a long time. She noted to The Guardian newspaper that his nonspeaking role in the enormously successful Star Wars franchise "brought lots of happiness to people."

Baker's short stature - only 106 centimeters - made him ideal for parts taller actors couldn't play.

He appeared in a number of science fiction and fantasy movies, as well as the highly regarded films Amadeus and The Elephant Man. He did the bulk of his film work in the 1980s.

Born in Birmingham, England, in 1934, Baker said in his online biography that he had not been expected to live long because of his disability. He credited a local charity group with helping him learn to cope with his limitations during his early years.

Baker's career as a performer began at age 16 when he joined a troupe called "Burton Lester's Midgets." His acts included roller-skating, playing drums, and doing magic tricks and comedy routines.

In fact, decades later, Baker said he preferred the term "performer" to "actor." In the Star Wars films, encased in a cylindrical robot costume that emitted only whistles and shrieks, Baker told The Associated Press that his work boiled down to logistics: "I worked the levers," he said.

Franchise fame

But, improbably, the wordless robot became one of the most recognizable characters of the franchise.

Baker went on to play R2D2 in six Star Wars movies and had a screen credit in the latest one, released in 2015. By then, his health had begun to fail. He attended the London premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in a wheelchair.

Baker had two sons with his wife, Eileen, who died in 1993. His latest post on his website thanked his fans for their good wishes and noted that he had had a "fairly quiet year" and enjoyed spending time in his garden.

Tributes to Baker began appearing on social media soon after news of his death was released. Former co-star Ewan McGregor tweeted, "It was lovely working with Kenny."

Actor Mark Hamill, one of the stars of the original Star Wars, praised Baker's optimism and determination and called him "a lifelong, loyal friend." Hamill also modified a famous Star Wars line in tribute, tweeting: "He WAS the droid I was looking for!"

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