Kenneth George Baker (24 August 1934 – 13 August 2016) was an English actor and musician. He is best remembered for portraying the character R2-D2 in the Star Wars science fiction movie franchise.
Baker was born and educated in Birmingham, Warwickshire, and at a boarding school in Kent. He was the son of Ethel (1906–1990), a pianist and dress maker, and Harold Baker (1908–1985), an artist, musician and draftsman. He went to live with his father, stepmother and half-sister in Hastings, Sussex.
Although his parents were of average height, Baker stood 3 ft 8 in (1.12 m) as an adult.
In 1951 Baker was approached on the street by a woman who invited him to join a theatrical troupe of dwarves and midgets. This was his first taste of show business. Later, he joined a circus for a brief time, learned to ice skate and appeared in many ice shows. He formed a successful comedy act called the Minitones with entertainer Jack Purvis and played in nightclubs.
While working with Purvis and the Minitones, Baker was selected by George Lucas to operate the robot (“droid”) R2-D2 in the science fiction feature film Star Wars, released in 1977. Baker recalled that he initially turned down the role.
Baker appears as R2-D2 in six of the episodic theatrical Star Wars films, and played an additional role in 1983’s Return of the Jedi as Paploo, the Ewok who steals an Imperial speeder bike. He was originally going to play Wicket, but he fell ill and that role was handed over to Warwick Davis. He revealed a feud between him and his co-star Anthony Daniels, claiming Daniels had been rude to him on numerous occasions, and stated that Daniels is rude to everyone, including fans.
Baker continued his association with the R2-D2 character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was released on 18 December 2015 in North America. He was going to be a member of the cast, but he served as consultant for the character instead. In November 2015 it was confirmed that Jimmy Vee was cast as R2-D2 in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, replacing Baker.
Baker’s other films include The Elephant Man, Time Bandits (also with Jack Purvis), Willow (also with Purvis and Warwick Davis), Flash Gordon, Amadeus and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.
On television, he appeared in the British medical drama Casualty. He also had a part in the BBC production of The Chronicles of Narnia. In the late 1990s, Baker launched a brief comedy career. He played Casanova in the 1993 movie UFO
In November 2009, his biography, From Tiny Acorns: The Kenny Baker Story, was written with Ken Mills and published by Writestuff Autographs.
Baker resided in Preston, Lancashire. He was married to actress Eileen Baker (who co-starred with him in the 1977 film Wombling Free) from 1970 until she died in 1993. Although Eileen also had dwarfism, this was not inherited by their two children.
Baker was invited to attend the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in Los Angeles in December 2015, but was too ill to travel to the US. He had been suffering from a lung condition for years. Instead, Baker attended the film’s premiere in London.
Baker died on 13 August 2016, eleven days before his 82nd birthday, following a brief additional illness. Following the death of the actor it was revealed by The Sun that he had fathered a son who had been kept secret from his family and that they had contacted each other on a number of occasions.
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