Kenny Baker, R2-D2 in 'Star Wars' movies, dies at 81

Actor originally reluctant to take iconic role

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By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

Kenny Baker, who played the “Star Wars” droid R2-D2 — one of the most beloved characters in the space-opera franchise — has died at the age of 81.

The British actor, who was 3-foot-8, first played the plucky droid in George Lucas’ 1977 blockbuster, and then reprised the role in two sequels, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” and three prequels.

Baker died after a long illness, his agent, Johnny Mans, confirmed.

“Kenny was truly a great friend, one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet and a fabulous and talented performer,” Mans said in an email. “He was a one-off. There will never be another Kenny Baker.”

Emitting a never-ending stream of beeps and boops, R2-D2 was both a comic foil to his uptight counterpart, C-3PO, played by Anthony Daniels, and a key player in the Rebel alliance’s fight against the Empire, serving as a trusty courier of secret messages for his owner, Luke Skywalker.

Baker, who before “Star Wars” had worked as a circus performer and was part of a comedy troupe called the Minitones, endured stifling temperatures to squeeze himself inside the droid costume.

“The problem was we had to get someone inside it,” “Star Wars” art director Leslie Dilley, who helped design R2-D2, said in 2007. “I eventually ended up with Kenny Baker, who was small with upper-body strength. Kenny didn’t want to do this job. He and his buddy were on a talent show on TV. ... I had to go around to his house and persuade him.”

In addition to the “Star Wars” films, Baker appeared in the 1980 sci-fi film “Flash Gordon” and director Terry Gilliam’s 1981 fantasy film “Time Bandits,” and more dramatic films like “Amadeus” and “The Elephant Man.”

But it was the role of R2-D2 for which Baker remained best-known. Baker was a consultant on last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and attended the film’s London premiere.

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