Kenny Baker, the British actor who gave soul to the heroic ‘droid R2-D2 in the Star Wars films, was found dead this morning in his home in England. He had been reportedly battling a lung ailment for the last several years and died in his sleep. He was 81.
Baker almost did not accept his most famous role, reportedly telling George Lucas that he didn’t want to be stuck inside the metallic shell of R2-D2. Eventually, the three-foot, eight-inch tall actor relented, but even then he was not sure that Star Wars (1977) would be hit. He certainly didn’t anticipate that he would be playing the character in a total of five more films in the science-fiction franchise.
Born in Birmingham, England on August 24, 1934, Baker was started his career performing with Burton Lester’s Midgets at the age of 16. He also performed a nightclub double act with another British little person actor Jack Purvis.
Although he was launched to fame with the Star Wars films, it was difficult for Baker to parlay that success into other substantive roles. Instead, he found himself in small roles in films like Flash Gordon, The Elephant Man (both 1980) and Labyrinth (1986). One film that did showcase the actor, along with several other little person actors, was Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, in which Baker co-starred as one of the band of temporal-traveling thieves.