R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker has passed away away, age 83

Tributes have poured in for the actor who brought the character of R2-D2 to life

Kenny Baker, R2-D2, Star Wars,

Image: Joel Ryan / AP/Press Association Images

Actor Kenny Baker, who played robot R2-D2 in the Star Wars film franchise, has died aged 83 after a longstanding illness.

His niece, Abigail Shield, told The Guardian: "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."

"He had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair," she added. "He was very poorly for a long time."

Shield told Sky News: "Unfortunately he was too ill to be part of the new Star Wars films. He was due to fly out to LA (for the most recent premiere) but doctors told him he was too unwell to fly."

Speaking of his work as R2-D2, Shield said: "He felt very blessed. He obviously enjoyed the time working at Star Wars, it gave him a whole new different view on his disability and it was taken as a positive thing."

Baker, who was 3ft 8in tall, first played the robot character in Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977.

He continued in the role for the franchise's next five films, and also starred in Time Bandits, Labyrinth and Flash Gordon. Baker's contribution was also recognised with a credit in last year's reboot Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Tributes have been pouring in for the late actor from co-stars and from around Hollywood, including from co-star Mark Hamill who praised Baker's "optimism and determination." 

Born in 1934, Baker was told by doctors that he was unlikely to live through puberty. He had been cared for by a nephew, who found him on Saturday morning, after suffering from serious illness during the last few years.