Star Wars fans as well as the rest of Hollywood are all in mourning today with news of Kenny Baker’s passing. At 81 years old, the 3-foot-8 actor has sadly passed after battling illness for a prolonged time. Known primarily for his work in the Star Wars franchise as the droid R2-D2 (he reprised this role in all of the first six films), Baker had a large and full career that also included work in Willow (1988), Labyrinth (1986), Amadeus (1984), Time Bandits (1981), The Elephant Man (1980), and Flash Gordon (1980). Baker is survived by his two children.
In a statement released by his niece, Abigail Shield, via CNN and The Guardian, Baker was remembered for the person he was off camera:
He had a very long and fulfilled life. He brought lots of happiness to people and we’ll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world. We’re all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime.
Baker was born in 1934 and started his career performing in the circus, comedy troups, and ice shows before being cast by George Lucas in 1977 for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. His gig as the lovable droid R2-D2 launched his career and by the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, he already had a long string of films awaiting development and release.
There has been an outpouring of love and homage to Baker today among his industry peers. His first ever boss in the industry, George Lucas, released a statement, calling Baker “a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances… a talented vaudevillian who could make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him.”
Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, took to twitter to express his admiration for Baker, saying “He was the droid I was looking for,” an homage to the famous Obi Wan Kenobi line from A New Hope.
Warwick Davis, who played Wicket in Return of the Jedi and also appeared with Baker in Labyrinth and Willow, made the touching remark, “sad to say goodbye to a small man with a huge heart & personality. He paved the way for short actors of a generation.”
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy summed it up best when she said
We’re all sad to learn of Kenny’s passing. There is no ‘Star Wars’ without R2-D2, and Kenny defined who R2-D2 was and is. He will be greatly missed.