Ann Gabriel | GoGaGaH

Kenny Baker, the 3ft 8in tall British actor. who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars films has died at the age of 81 after a long illness. The actor shot to fame in 1977 when he first played R2-D2, the small cruising robot character, who usually looks after Princess Leia.

Baker, who went on to play the character in the Star Wars series and prequels, also appeared in a number of other much loved films in the 1980s, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon.

Abigail Shield, Baker’s niece paid tribute to her uncle. “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 Abigail’s dad, Ian, grew up in Birmingham. “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.”

Baker had a crush on Eileen, his wife after they both met on the Michael Parkinson TV chat show. When he wrote her and expressed his intention to meet her, she said that she was a little person too and wanted to meet him. “They got married soon after,” Shield said. “Sadly she died of epilepsy about 20 years ago.”

Baker had problems with his lungs and was often confined in a wheelchair.

When invited to attend the new Star Wars premiere in Los Angeles, he said that he was too ill to travel.

Johnny Mans, Baker’s agent, said they know each other since the 1960s when they were both club entertainers.

Baker used to be part of a double act called the Mini-Tones, his partner being Jack Purvis, who sadly died after a car accident.