Star Wars fans are in mourning this week after Kenny Baker, best known for playing the beloved character R2-D2 in six of the franchise’s films, passed away on Saturday at his home in northwest England. He was 81 years-old.
The New York Times reported that Baker was a little person whose height was believed to be 3 feet 8 inches. In an autobiographical sketch on his official website, the actor referred to his stature as “my height difficulties,” but he acknowledged that if he were taller he never would have been able to take his most famous role.
“They said, ‘You’ve got to do it; we can’t find anybody else. You’re small enough to get into it and you’re strong enough to be able to move it,’” he said of R2-D2’s cylindrical metal costume in a video interview. “I was a godsend to them, really.”
Born in 1934, he began his career in entertainment in 1950 as part of a traveling troupe in Britain called Burton Lester’s Midgets. He soon left the act and spent the next few decades traveling the United Kingdom working in various nightclub and theater acts. He got his big break in the first Star Wars movie in 1977, but he almost turned the part down.
“This film came along and I turned it down,” Baker recounted. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be stuck in a robot, what for, for goodness sake.’”
He ended up taking the role as a favor to George Lucas, and though he had no real lines, he became one of the most beloved characters in the movie. The role changed his life so much that he later said he would have done it without pay.
“Had I known I would have done it for nothing because he was broke at the beginning, he didn’t have a penny, George,” Baker said.
Lucas honored Baker with a statement on Saturday in which he praised him as “an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances.”
“A talented vaudevillian who could always 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,” he added.
In addition to his roles in the six Star Wars movies, Baker also acted in famous movies like Mona Lisa, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Time Bandits and Amadeus.
Rest in peace, Kenny Baker!