Today comes the sad news that Kenny Baker, who played R2D2 in all of George Lucas’s Star Wars films, passed away today just days from what would’ve been his 82nd birthday. He’d been suffering from a long-term undisclosed illness. From The Guardian:
His niece, Abigail Shield, paid tribute to her uncle. She told the Guardian: “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.”
Baker and Shield’s father, Ian, grew up in Birmingham. She said: “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. 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.”
Apparently Lucas got to see him sometime before he passed:
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 LA 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’s other films include “The Elephant Man,” “Time Bandits,” and “Flash Gordon.” He’d performed for years with his friend and frequent co-star Jack Purvis on the British cabaret circuit.
Here are some Tweets from his former co-stars:
From TPM/ROTS’s Christian Simpson’s Facebook page:
“SO sad. Kenny Baker is one with the Force. Beep-booop. My thoughts are with his family. An honor to work with him.”
I have a couple of personal memories about Baker. I met him in 2000 when he appeared at small convention in Fairfax County, VA, the only Star Wars guest with mostly Star Trek people. I sat through his talk and Q&A session, then got into line for autographs. All of the while I chatted with a guy behind me who was of course more of a Trekkie but as a little person himself (he was a Thalidomide baby), he said he grew up admiring Baker and saw him as an inspiration. I didn’t realize that this particular show required getting a coupon of some kind to get the autographs until I got up to the table. Baker was up there with his second wife and I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t know about the coupon thing. Instead of kicking me out of the line, he very graciously signed anyway. He had a great photo on the table that I had not seen before, with himself, George Lucas, Ewan McGregor, and Samuel L. Jackson at one of the TPM premieres. I almost asked him about it but I’d decided not to push my luck. The next time I saw Baker was at Celebration II two years later, when he and his wife were just walking along toward the music concert. When I’d glimpsed him at cons after that, he’d been in a wheelchair.
Do you have any memories of meeting Kenny Baker? Have any thoughts to share?