Kenny Baker, the man best known for the Star Wars character R2-D2, passed away at the age of 81 on August 13 due to a lung condition he was suffering from for the past few years. Kenny Baker was found dead by his niece Abigail Shield at his home. She said that “it was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless,” continuing that “he had a very long and fulfilling life... [that] brought lots of happiness to people.” She added, “we will be celebrating the fact that he was loved throughout the world… and are all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime.”
Kenny Baker was born in Birmingham on August 24, 1934. He graduated from a boarding school in Kent and was originally planning to become a draftsman like his father. Baker first got into show business in 1951 through a woman on the street who told him about a theatrical troupe of dwarves and midgets called Burton Lester’s Midgets. Kenny Baker later performed in a circus where he learned how to ice skate, a skill that led him to participate in many ice shows. In 1976, Kenny Baker was asked by George Lucas to act as R2-D2 while performing a comedy act called the Minitones. Baker initially refused the life-changing opportunity by saying “I don’t want to be stuck in a robot. What for?” Also, he was low on budget and was not sure he could devote his time on a movie while giving up the sustainable job he had. However, he later decided to do George Lucas a favor because he was the perfect fit for the part and it was difficult for George Lucas to find another person with the right size and talents. What ultimately gave Baker confidence in participating in the Star Wars series was realizing that Alec Guinness was a member of the cast as well. Referring to the actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, Baker admitted, “I thought if Alec Guinness is in it — he knows more than I do about filming — it must be a decent film or he would not be in it.”
Despite the fact that his face and his voice were never screened throughout the series, Kenny Baker had constant streams of fans asking for his autograph for movies that he participated in 25 years ago. To this, Kenny marvelled, “It’s amazing! There are people camping out on the pavement for autographs; it’s crazy.” The acting itself was not so pleasant for Baker as nails and screws inside the robot kept on scratching him. He remembers the experience as being a “boiled egg with a lid on.” But Baker was an optimistic man and managed to finish six Star Wars films without major complaints. As tweeted by director George Lucas, “Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well 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.”
Baker’s fans and friends mourned his death on social media. “Goodbye Kenny Baker, a lifelong loyal friend. I loved his optimism and determination. He was the droid I was looking for,” said Mark Hamill, the actor for Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series. Warwick Davis, another short actor who plays an Ewok, said, “Sad to say goodbye to a small man with a huge heart and personality.” He also thanked Baker by saying, “He paved the way for short actors.” There is much to learn from a man who had overcome his physical defects and utilized it to become one of the most memorable robot in our hearts. In addition to playing the role of the iconic robot, Baker later starred in films such as Time Bandits, Elephant Man, and Labyrinth.