here at IBY we were saddened to hear the news that Kenny Baker has died at the age of 82.
Kenny achieved worldwide fame as the droid R2D2 in the Star Wars Films of George Lucas, appearing in six of the series, beginning in 1971. Kenny’s film career included several films for The Henson Organisation, and included playing Fidgit in Terry Gillam’s “Time Bandits” in 1981.
I was fortunate enough to be working at the studios during shooting, and would meet the cast, including Kenny in the canteen there for chaotic lunch breaks! Kenny appeared in Mona Lisa, The Elephant Man, Amadeus, Labyrinth and Willow in a career that spanned over sixty years, and saw him presented to the Queen (he was hugely proud of this) and appearing opposite Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at The Royal Opera House!
Kenny was born in Solihul, and at the age of 16 and 3’8″ tall, he signed up to Burton Lester’s Midgets, touring in his shows, and then went on to join Billy Smart’s circus as Clown and “shadow” Ringmaster. A skilled skater he joined the Ice shows and pantomimes for almost a decade, from 1961, working with several artistes he remained life long friends with. One was Rusty Goffe, who like Kenny appeared in Major Motion Pictures including Star Wars and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Here is what Rusty had to say about Kenny’s passing :
Having known the Great Kenny Baker for over 50 years I am very saddened to hear of his death. Kenny was a super Pro. A great friend. Having worked with the dear man in our early years in Tom Arnold’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on Ice though to when he split from his cabaret partner, the late great Jackie Purvis for two years. Those two years were most memorable for me. From working the Night Clubs both in Europe and the U.K. Being “screamed” at by girls when we supported the top pop groups of the time. To when we worked the American Air Bases in Germany when we were told there had been a change and the options were go to Tripoli (pre Gadaffi) or Vietnam……where we would have to be parachuted in!!!! Kenny opted for Tripoli!! (the “night club incident” will remain our secret ) I will miss the great man especially when we met up at conventions. (Thank you Jason Joiner for giving Ken the opportunity to meet his fans, which he loved! )
May he rest in peace. Xx Rusty Goffe.
As Rusty mentions, Kenny formed a cabaret act “The Mini Tones” along with Jack Purvis (Jack was later to join Kenny in that first “Star Wars” voyage. He and Jack toured the UK, Europe, and North Africa.
Kenny was a fan of pantomime. In an interview for the Birmingham Hippodrome Panto “Snow White” he appeared in he said “I do enjoy doing pantomime at Christmas. If I didn’t do it, I’d feel as though I was missing something” and his panto appearances included Birmingham, Southport on several occasions, as well as Swansea Grand and Blackpool. He worked amongst others for Paul Elliott, Duggie Chapman and UK Productions.
Those pantomimes are now memories, but Kenny’s memory and acheivements will continue to be celebrated by Star Wars fans and Cinema fans the world over.
His obituary can be found in most nespapers including the Telegraph: