9:46am PT by Hilary Lewis
R2-D2 Actor Kenny Baker Dies at 81
British actor Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 in the first six Star Wars films, has died. He was 81.
The Guardian on Saturday first reported the news of Baker's death, quoting a statement from his niece, who said he died after a long illness.
The niece, Abigail Shield, told The Guardian of her uncle's death, “It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless. 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.
“When he was a child, he was told that he probably wouldn’t survive through puberty, being a little person in those times, they didn’t have a very good life expectancy," Shield said of the actor, who grew to 3 feet, 8 inches tall. "He did extremely well in his life. He was very ill for the last few years so we had been expecting it. He had been looked after by one of his nephews, who found him on Saturday morning.”
Shield explained that Baker met his wife, Eileen, after an appearance on a TV show hosted by Michael Parkinson. She wrote in, saying she also was a little person and wanted to meet him. "They got married soon after," Shield said, adding that Eileen died of epilepsy about 20 years ago.
Shield added: “He had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair. He was very poorly for a long time. He was asked to go out to L.A. for the new Star Wars premiere but he was told he was too ill to travel. Luckily he did manage to meet George Lucas again when he came to Manchester.”
Baker was able to attend the London premiere of the latest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.
Drew Myerscough, Baker's nephew and caregiver, told Sky News that Baker had suffered years of breathing problems, "which he had borne very bravely," adding that the affection of Star Wars fans around the world "kept him going, without any doubt."
"He was amazed that, even after 30-odd years, the fans still basically adored him," Myerscough told Sky.
Baker's agent Johnny Mans also confirmed his death to the Associated Press, calling his client "one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet, and a fabulous and talented performer."
And Lucas and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy acknowledged Baker's passing on StarWars.com.
Baker first played R2-D2 in the original Star Wars film in 1977. He went on to reprise the role of the droid in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well as the three Star Wars prequels Lucas directed from 1999 to 2005. In addition to the Star Wars films, Baker also appeared in Flash Gordon, The Elephant Man, Amadeus, Time Bandits and Labyrinth. He also had a role on the Goodies TV series, among other small-screen appearances.
Mark Hamill, just one of Baker's co-stars and fans who paid tribute to him on social media, remembered Baker in the below tweet on Saturday.
Aug. 13, 11:36 a.m. An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Baker's age as 83. He was 81, according to the birthdate on his official website.
Aug. 13, 2:26 p.m. This story has been updated with additional confirmation of Baker's death.