You’d think everything related to the Star Wars films would be American but Ken Baker who played R2D2 in the first six films lived in Preston, Lancashire. When he lost his life to a lung condition aged 81 he was cremated here at Lytham Cemetery, Lancashire. Here I am where he was turned to ashes and some of him was send up into space.
He was born in Birmingham but didn’t really grow up...ever. Though his parents were of normal height he stopped growing when he reached 3ft 8 inches (1.12 metres.) As his dad was an artist and musician and his mum was a pianist and musician it’s no surprise he didn’t end up being a road sweeper. While at boarding school in Kent his parents split up. He ended up going to live with his dad and stepmother and half-sister in Hastings, Sussex.
Aged 17 a woman in the street approached him and invited him to join a theatrical troupe of dwarves and midgets. You bet he was interested and this was his first taste of show business. From here he went on to join a circus for a brief time, learned to ice skate and appeared in many ice shows. He formed comedy act called The Minitones with entertainer Jack Purvis and they toured the nightclub circuit.
While touring the nightclubs Kenny was approached by film director George Lucas to operate a “droid” robot in the science fiction film called with a working title of Star Wars. Kenny didn’t like the sound of it at all - a mini machine that beeps and whistles? No thanks. Eventually he accepted it and oddly the role that meant nobody could see him made him famous across the globe.
Aged 36 he married actress Eileen Baker (who he met while filming Wombling Free) and they remained together for twenty-three year until she died of epilepsy. Eileen was also a dwarf but their two sons grew to average heights.
Kenny was R2-D2 in six of the episodic theatrical Star Wars films and played an additional role in 1983's Return of the Jedi as Paploo, the Ewok who steals an Imperial speeder bike. Though he’s known for being R2D2 he appeared in other well-loved films though the 1980s, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits, Willow and Flash Gordon.
Aged 81 he was invited to attend the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in Los Angeles but he was a poorly man and needed a wheelchair (he managed to attend the film's premiere in London.) He’d spent the last decades of life living in Ashton-on-Ribble in Preston with his partner Valerie Gale.
He died on 13th August 2016, a few days before his 82nd birthday. Probate records state he left £328,771 most of which went to sons Chris and Kevin. A man came forward to insist Kenny was his dad from a brief relationship with his mum Yvonne (before he married.) Yvonne claimed she’d met Kenny in a nightclub in Bristol eight years before he became famous as R2D2. On her son’s fortieth birthday she told him Kenny was his blood dad and they spoke a few times for six years before the actor died. Publically Kenny’s family said it was all nonsense but I suppose we’ll never know the truth.
Here I am at the crematorium where the funeral service was held. The service could have taken place at Ken’s home town of Birmingham but his final wish was to be cremated outside his hometown because he disliked the crematorium building and surroundings. A special request was made that Star Wars fans did not arrive in costumes.
The coffin arrived in a Rolls Royce and Ken was piped into the chapel by the Royal Tank Regiment playing Scotland the Brave. Among the songs played during the service were Nat King Cole's Stardust and Willie Nelson's On The Road Again. Darth Vader actor David attended the funeral to ensure the force went with the diminutive actor. George Lucas film and Disney sent a message: 'You brought so much joy to the Star Wars family'.
The diddy dude had done well bearing in mind doctors predicted his dwarfism meant he was unlikely to live passed puberty. He was 81 when his nephew - who had been looking after him - found him dead one Saturday morning.
Here he comes…