Beloved R2-D2 actor dies

Kenny Baker, the 3-foot, 8-inch tall actor who towered as the iconic “Star Wars” character R2-D2 died yesterday in his native England at the age of 81.

Baker, who had been ill for a long time, was confined to a wheelchair and unable to attend the premiere of last year’s wildly popular “Star Wars” reboot in Los Angeles. Though Baker did get to see George Lucas one last time when the creator of the “Star Wars” series visited Manchester, England, after the premiere.

Mark Hamill, who plays the heroic Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” series, tweeted “Goodbye #KennyBaker A lifelong loyal friend — I loved his optimism & determination He WAS the droid I was looking for!”

Encased in the android R2-D2’s metallic shell, Baker gave endearing life to the robot, which was one half of a comedic duo with Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO that emerged as an intergalactic Laurel and Hardy.

Baker co-starred in six of the installments in George Lucas’s beloved series. He began in the 1977 original “Star Wars,” segued into the sequels “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” and then returned for the three prequels, which began in 1999 and wrapped up in 2005.

Baker, who was born in Birmingham, was also featured in “The Elephant Man,” “Time Bandits” and “Flash Gordon.”

He was considered lucky to have survived childhood, his niece, Abigail Shield, told the London newspaper The Guardian. “Being a little person in those times, they didn’t have a very good life expectancy,” she said.

Baker got his start in show business in the early 1960s as part of a duo called the Mini-Tones, with Jack Purvis as his partner. That act ended when Purvis died in an auto accident.

Baker met his wife, Eileen, as a fan.

She saw him on British television being interviewed and wrote him a letter, saying she was a little person too and was eager to meet him in person.

They were soon married in 1970 but, his niece said, “Sadly Eileen died of epilepsy about 20 years ago.”

As news of his passing spread around the world, Baker’s fans, friends and colleagues paid tribute on social media.

Acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro paid his respects on Twitter, writing: “A great one — And, like Napoleon, his stature was measured not from head-to-ground but head-to-sky.”

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