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'Star Wars' R2-D2 Actor Kenny Baker Dies At 81

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Kenny Baker, the actor who portrayed R2-D2 in Star Wars passed away at age 81 this morning. According to the Guardian, the actor, who was 3'8", had long been suffering from an illness.His niece, Abigail Shield, told the Guardian that his death "was expected, but it's sad nonetheless. He had a very long and fulfilled life," 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." Baker was found dead by one of his nephews, who had been looking after him recently.

In a statement on the official Star Wars website, director George Lucas said, "Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances. A talented vaudevillian who could always make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him."

Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker (duh), mourned Baker's death, calling him a "lifelong, loyal friend," and enthusiastically re-tweeted a bunch of other actors' memories of Baker:

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STAR WARS⭐
With the loss of Kenny Baker today
Just want to think about happier days and the joy he brought so many. pic.twitter.com/Prjy5vWRnn

— ᏚᎢᎪᎡ ᏔᎪᎡᏚ ᴛʀɪʟᴏɢʏ (@ClassicJedi77) August 13, 2016

Fun fact: in addition to playing R2-D2, Baker also portrayed the ewok Paploo, who famously stole a speeder bike in Return of the Jedi.

In a 2004 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Baker unleashed some pretty juicy details about the filming of Star Wars, and addressed the tension he had with C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels, of whom he said, "I didn't have a relationship with him. He was an actor and I was an actor."

Baker, who was born in Birmingham, England, started performing when he was a teenager in circuses and for traveling comedy troupes. In 1977, Lucas hired Baker to play R2-D2. Entertainment Weekly describes how this was done, writing that Baker would:

...slip inside the hollowed out models of Artoo to make him shudder, wobble, and spin his dome in reaction to dialog. Although scenes of the droid rolling were usually done with a motor or cable, fans can easily tell when Baker is inhabiting the astromech by the black exhaust tubes connecting his undercarriage to the robot’s feet, which obscured Baker’s legs.

EW also wrote that Baker was in all three original Star Wars films, as well as the three prequels, but was already confined to a wheelchair and unable to play R2-D2 for The Force Awakens, though he received a credit as a "droid consultant" on the film.

Rest easy, Kenny Baker.