Kenny Baker, the three-foot-eight actor best known for playing the beloved robot R2-D2 in the Star Wars franchise, has died at the age of 81 following a "long illness," his niece confirmed to The Guardian. The British actor quickly rose to prominence for his portrayal of R2-D2 in the original 1977 Star Wars, and he proceeded to play the cheeky astromech droid in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and all three of the Wars prequel films. Just last year, Baker also served as a consultant for the newest film in the franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. "It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless," his niece, Abigail Spencer, said. "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 was asked to go out to LA for the new Star Wars premiere but he was told he was too ill to travel. Luckily he did manage to meet George Lucas again when he came to Manchester."
"I know they know that I know that they don't really need me," he told Empire in 2002, regarding the rapidly increasing use of CGI in sci-fi films. "They could replace me for sure. But that's the kind of guy George [Lucas] is — he's a wonderful man who sticks by his colleagues." Baker's other film credits include The Goonies, Time Bandits, The Elephant Man, and Flash Gordon. [Sad beeps.]