UPDATE: In a statement posted on the Star Wars site, George Lucas said: "Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances. A talented vaudevillian who could always make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him."
Rarely has an actor not seen or heard made such a big impact.
Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2 in six of the Star Wars films, died Saturday, his agent confirms to NPR.
Standing 3 feet 8 inches tall, the British actor also appeared in The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon, among other films.
"He was just a lovely guy," said agent Johnny Mans, "and I shall miss him terribly."
Baker rose to fame in 1977 as R2-D2 in the first Star Wars, the speechless droid "counterpart" to the chatty C-3PO. Mans says that Baker told people that was his favorite role, though he enjoyed being actually seen in other roles.
Baker suffered from chest problems in his later years and was confined to a wheelchair more recently, but he would still sign autographs, Mans says. Multiple outlets report that he was 81 years old at the time of his death.
Baker was born in Birmingham, England and began performing at age 16 "as a circus clown, nightclub performer and in pantomime," according to the BBC. He was part of a comedy and music duo called the "Mini Tones" with partner Jack Purvis before beginning in the movie business, Mans says.
Mans recalls that Baker didn't always want to be treated differently because of his height.
"A lot of people used to, when they were talking to him, they would bend down and talk to Kenny because he was short," he recalls. "And he used to say to them, 'Listen, I'm short, not deaf.' "
Baker's 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 was found Saturday morning by his nephew. Baker is survived by two sons, a niece and nephew. His wife Eileen died in 1993, the BBC reported.
In speaking to NPR, Mans called Baker "a great friend" who "will be sadly missed."
Tributes to Baker poured in from fans and colleagues on Twitter: