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Kenny Baker (1934 - 2016)

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Kenny Baker (1934 - 2016)

Kenny Baker, the British actor who played R2-D2 in “Star Wars,” died Aug. 13, 2016, after a long illness, according to The Guardian. He was 81.

“It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless,” his niece, Abigail Shield, told The Guardian. “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.”

Much of that love comes from the fact that Baker was the man inside of the iconic droid R2-D2 throughout most of the “Star Wars” saga. The 3-foot-8 actor first stepped into the “dustbin” for “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” in 1977. He shifted his weight to animate the character and operated controls inside the costume to turn the domed head. He played the character throughout the original trilogy and the prequels, and he was credited as an R2-D2 consultant in “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.”

Baker originally resisted playing a role in which audiences wouldn’t see his face. He had a successful career in British show business performing in nightclubs in the comedy act the Minitones with partner Jack Purvis. Purvis would join him playing roles as Jawas, Ugnauts, and Ewoks in the “Star Wars” films. Baker also played an Ewok who stole an Imperial speeder bike in “Star Wars: Episode IV – Return of the Jedi.”

Other films in which Baker appeared include “The Elephant Man,” “Time Bandits,” “Willow,” “Flash Gordon,” and “Labyrinth.”

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Baker was born Aug. 24, 1934, in Birmingham, England. He had no plans to enter show business until he met a woman on the street who invited him to join a theatrical group of little people. He performed in circuses and ice shows around Britain before starting his comedy duo with Purvis and getting into film.

He met his wife, Eileen, after an appearance on a TV talk show. She wrote the show, telling them that she was a little person, too, and wanted to meet him. She was an actress as well; the two soon married and eventually had two children. Shield told The Guardian that Eileen “died of epilepsy about 20 years ago.”

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