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Kenny Baker, centre, poses for photographers upon arrival at the European premiere of the film 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens ' in London, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Kenny Baker, the guy who played R2-D2 in Star Wars, died at age 81


The man behind the droid, Kenny Baker who played the lovable R2-D2  in six Star Wars films has died at the age of 81 after battling a long illness, his niece confirmed Saturday. 

Baker, who was 3 ft tall, rose to fame in 1977 when he first played the robot character in the first Star Wars film. He went on the play R2-D2 in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the three Star Wars prequels from 1999 to 2005. 

Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker paid tribute to Baker on Twitter. 

The British actor appeared in other 80s cult classics, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon. 

His niece, Abigail Shield told the Guardian Baker's passing was "expected, but sad nonetheless." 

She added that her uncle 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 Baker had a problem with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair. He had been ill for the last few years of his life and was being taken care of by a nephew. 

Baker met his wife, Eileen after she saw him on the Michael Parkinson TV talk show.  She wrote in to say that she was a little person too and wanted to meet him. They were married soon after. Eileen died of epilepsy about 20 years ago, Shield said. 

Baker began performing at age 16 when he worked as a circus clown in a pantomime in 1950. 

In an interview posted on his website, Baker said he initially turned down the role of R2-D2. He recalled telling Star Wars creator George Lucas, "I don't want to be stuck in a robot, what for, for goodness' sake?"

Which Star Wars droid is your favorite?

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