Kenny Baker, the British actor who rose to fame by playing the robot R2-D2 in six Star Wars films, died Saturday in Preston, England. He was 81.
His death was confirmed by a spokeswoman for Lucasfilm, the company that created and produces the enormously popular Star Wars franchise.
Mr. Baker was a little person whose adult height was reported to be 3 feet 8 inches. He referred to his short stature as "my height difficulties" in an autobiographical sketch on his official website, but it would have been impossible for a taller man to play the role that made him famous.
"They said, 'You've got to do it; we can't find anybody else. You're small enough to get into it and you're strong enough to be able to move it,' " he said of R2-D2's cylindrical metal costume in a video interview in Stockholm that he shared on his website.
That role began with the 1977 release of Star Wars, but it was a part he almost did not take.
"This film came along, and I turned it down," Mr. Baker said during the interview in Stockholm. "I said, 'I don't want to be stuck in a robot, what for, for goodness sake.' "
He ultimately relented and agreed to take the job as a favor to Star Wars creator George Lucas, he said. The role had no lines — the character's signature beeps and boops were not voiced by Mr. Baker — and, seated inside the robot, he never showed his face. But R2-D2 so changed his career that in later years he told an interviewer that if he could go back in time, he would do it again for free.
"... I would have done it for nothing because he was broke at the beginning, he didn't have a penny, George," Mr. Baker said.
But he might have asked for a share of the film's profits, he said. "I'd be a millionaire like Alec Guinness was!"
Mr. Baker played R2-D2 in six Star Wars films and also acted in a number of other high-profile movies, including Mona Lisa, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Time Bandits and Amadeus.