British actor Kenny Baker, who starred as one of science fiction’s most iconic robots, R2-D2, has died after battling a long illness. He was 81 years old.
The 3-foot-8-inch actor was found dead Saturday morning by one of his nephews at his home in northwest England, his niece Abigail Shield told the Guardian, which first reported news of his death.
"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," Shield's said. "He did extremely well in his life. He was very ill for the last few years so we had been expecting it."
Baker and Shield's father, Ian, grew up in Birmingham, England.
Baker's agent Jonny Mans confirmed his death, saying "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 the two met in the 1960s as club entertainers and worked together before going on to become his agent.
He became a household name in 1977 when he first played the role of R2-D2 in the first "Star Wars" film. He went on to appear with Anthony Daniels' C-3PO character in "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," as well as the three prequels.
Movie studio 20th Century Fox posted a photograph of C-3PO standing next to Baker's "Star Wars" character, writing: "Rest in peace, Kenny Baker, the heart and soul of R2D2."
The actor also appeared in "Flash Gordon," "Labyrinth" and "Time Bandits."
"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,” Shield said.