Kenny Baker, the British actor who was the man underneath the iconic robot R2-D2 in the three original Star Wars films and the three prequels, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 81-years-old.

Baker initially turned down R2-D2 role

The 3’8” Baker made his name when he first appeared as R2-D2 in the 1977 blockbuster film Star Wars. In an interview published on his official website, the actor was quoted as saying that he wasn’t interested at first in playing the role, as he didn’t “want to be stuck in a robot (costume)” for an entire movie.

But Star Wars creator George Lucas convinced him to play the part by saying that Baker was small enough to wear the costume, yet strong enough to move around while wearing it.

Baker had gone on to appear in the film’s two sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), becoming a mainstay of the franchise due to the popularity of his character. He had also starred in the three prequels that came out between 1999 and 2005, but didn’t appear in the latest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, which came out in 2015.

In that movie, R2-D2 was portrayed by another little person, Jimmy Vee, who will reprise the role in the next film in the series, which is scheduled for release in 2017.

Actor had been ill for the last few years, says agent

Baker’s agent Johnny Mans told the BBC that he had “been ill for a couple of years,” though did not go into any specifics regarding the exact circumstances behind his illness. He referred to Baker as a “great friend” and “one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet.”

Baker was a regular at Star Wars conventions

According to Baker’s nephew Drew Myerscough, he had taken care of the actor for about “eight or nine years” due to his respiratory issues.

Despite his increasingly failing health, Baker loved to go to Star Wars conventions and meeting some of the franchise’s many fans. Myerscough said that his uncle’s love for conventions “gave him that extra lease on life.”

Baker, a resident of Preston, Lancashire,is survived by his two children. His wife, Eileen, also suffered from dwarfism and passed away in1993.

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