Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 in 'Star Wars,' dead at 81

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2008 file photo, "Star Wars" characters C-3PO, left, and R2D2 arrive at the American Cinematheque Award gala honoring Samuel L. Jackson in Beverly Hills, Calif. Actor Kenny Baker, who portrayed the R2-D2 in the first Star Wars movie, has died Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. His niece, Abigail Shield, said he was found dead by a nephew on Saturday at his home in northwest England after a long illness.(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Kenny Baker, the 3-foot 8-inch (1.1 meter) actor who played R2-D2 in the "Star Wars" films, has died

LONDON — Kenny Baker played the lovable droid R2-D2 in the "Star Wars" films, achieving cult status and fans' adulation without showing his face or speaking any lines.

The 3-foot 8-inch (1.1 meter) performer — a word he preferred to actor — inside the waste-bin-shaped costume has died at 81. Baker's nephew and carer, Drew Myerscough, said he found Baker dead Saturday at his home in Preston, northwest England.

Myerscough told Sky News that Baker had suffered years of breathing problems, "which he had borne very bravely." He said the affection of "Star Wars" fans around the world "kept him going, without any doubt."

"He was amazed that, even after 30-odd years, the fans still basically adored him," Myerscough said.

Baker's agent, Johnny Mans, confirmed his death. He said Baker was "one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet, and a fabulous and talented performer."

Mark Hamill, the "Star Wars" series' Luke Skywalker, tweeted: "Goodbye #KennyBaker A lifelong loyal friend-I loved his optimism & determination. He WAS the droid I was looking for!" — a reference to a famous line from the first film.

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

Born to a music-loving family in the central England city of Birmingham on Aug 24, 1934, Baker started performing at 16 as part of a troupe called "Burton Lester's Midgets."

Baker told The Associated Press in 1985 that Burton had asked him "What can you do?' I said I could roller skate, ride a bike and whistle. I joined them and did all that, and conjuring tricks, played drums and comedy routines as well."

Baker later worked as a DJ and circus clown, and as half a comedy-musical duo called the Mini-Tones with Jack Purvis, who also appeared in the "Star Wars" films.

Fame came when he was cast as the actor inside R2-D2's cylindrical robot costume in 1977's "Star Wars."

"I worked the levers," he told the AP.

Baker said he initially turned down the part. In an interview on his website, he said he told director George Lucas "I don't want to be stuck in a robot, what for, for goodness sake?"

Eventually, he said he told Lucas, "I'll help you out."

Even though R2-D2's dialogue amounted only to beeps and whistles, the droid and his lanky friend C-3PO became two of the series' most beloved characters.

Baker returned for "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," and reprised the role in three prequels released between 1999 and 2005.

Despite their onscreen rapport, Baker and Anthony Daniels, who played the protocol droid C-3P0, weren't close. Baker accused Daniels of being snobbish; Daniels was once quoted by Britain's Daily Mirror as saying Baker "might as well be a bucket."

Baker also appeared in films including "The Elephant Man," ''Time Bandits," ''Willow" and "Labyrinth."

Baker's wife Eileen died in 1993. The couple had two sons.

Related News

Is NBC's prime-time Olympics due for a change?

Aug 12, 2016

For all the changes media and even Olympics coverage, NBC sticks to a time-honored formula for its...

After storm halts tribute, A-Rod doubles in...

Aug 13, 2016

His pregame tribute ended by a storm, Alex Rodriguez began his final game with the New York Yankees...

Nephew in 'Making a Murderer' has conviction...

Aug 13, 2016

A judge has overturned the conviction of a Wisconsin man found guilty of helping his uncle kill a...

At 93, legendary climber Fred Beckey still...

Aug 13, 2016

Legendary Seattle climber Fred Beckey is the focus of a new documentary film about his life

A-Rod released by Yankees, who owe him $27...

Aug 13, 2016

Alex Rodriguez has been unconditionally released by the New York Yankees, ending his 12 years in...

Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 in 'Star Wars,'...

Aug 13, 2016

Kenny Baker, the 3-foot 8-inch (1.1 meter) actor who played R2-D2 in the "Star Wars" films, has died

You may also like these

Is NBC's prime-time Olympics due for a change?

Aug 12, 2016

For all the changes media and even Olympics coverage, NBC sticks to a time-honored formula for its...

'Wire' actor Wendell Pierce loses Baton Rouge home

Aug 16, 2016

"The Wire" and "Treme" actor Wendell Pierce's home was destroyed by flooding in Baton Rouge,...

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard settle divorce case

Aug 16, 2016

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard say they have settled their contentious divorce on Tuesday and the...

NBC chairman blasts Trump in private Facebook post

Aug 16, 2016

The chairman of NBC Entertainment is slamming Donald Trump, the network's onetime "Apprentice" star

Judge to Ex-NFL star: Can't ignore the damage you...

Aug 18, 2016

Former NFL star Darren Sharper is sentenced to more than 18 years in prison for drugging women in...

Financial Markets