Kenny Baker, British actor who played R2D2 in Star Wars films, dies aged 81

Mr Baker passed away after a long illness, his niece has confirmed.

Katie Forster,Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 13 August 2016 22:36
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Kenny Baker with R2-D2 at the London Film and Comic Convention
Kenny Baker with R2-D2 at the London Film and Comic Convention

He was born in Birmingham but Kenny Baker became famous across the galaxies.

The man who began his life working as a circus clown - he was 3ft 8in tall - became a household name in 1977 when he starred as R2-D2 in the first Star Wars film, a role he would reprise five more times. On Saturday, it was revealed that the 81-year-old had died after becoming ill with cancer.

His death was confirmed by his niece, Abigail Shield.

Over the course of several decades, Baker established himself as one half of cinema’s most unlikely, robotic double acts, playing alongside Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO. They bantered and bleeped in Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and a further three films that were set as prequels.

On Saturday, as tributes poured into the man who also starred in The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon, he was remembered as a kind and funny man. Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, described him as a "lifelong loyal friend".

Baker's nephew and carer for the last nine years of his life, Drew Myerscough, told the Independent his death was a "huge loss" and described Baker as a "grounded guy who wasn't affected by success at all."

"He was forthright, he didn't sugarcoat anything, you knew exactly where you stood with him. I admired that trait," said Mr Myerscough.

"He was recognised wherever we went, and people were really respectful towards him. He gave people the time of day and never brushed them off – he always spoke to thm politely, because he understood how important it was for his fans."

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Baker, who would appear at Star Wars fan conventions across the world, once told the BBC that his favourite role was actually that of Fidgit in 1981’s Time Bandits.

“The director Terry Gilliam’s such a nutcase, he’s so enthusiastic, you can't help enjoy it. It was just a fun film to make,” he said.

And yet the father-of-two who lived in Preston and outlived his wife Eileen, will be best remembered for his Star Wars roles.

Despite his celebrity, he once revealed that the films were not easy going. Indeed, he said that his relationship with Daniels was often testy.

He once branded him “the rudest man I’ve ever met”.

Baker was 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. Yet he was invited to the premier of the 2015 production Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Mr Myerscough said for the last three years he'd been looking after baker "physically, mentally and emotionally."

"His wish was to be kept at home, and we did keep him at home – can't ask for more than that really," he said.

"I'm 48 and he was 81, but that didn't affect our friendship in the slightest. We were a bit like Lou and Andy from Little Britain: I used to push him round in a wheelchair, he'd be giving me instructions, and I wouldn't take a blind bit of notice.

"We would be bickering constantly and to outsiders, it might have looked like we were falling out, but we weren't."

Mr Myerscough said saw his role as a carer as a repayment for all his uncle had given him before he fell ill.

"When he was well, 20-odd years ago, I went around the world with him, I went to premiers and to meet the Queen with him," he said.

"All I've done is not a noble thing, I've just repaid him. We had good times and I gave him my time to make sure he was happy to his end, and he was.

"I was with him when he died, in his sleep, and I'm thankful that he didn't die alone."

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