Kenny Baker, ‘Star Wars’ R2-D2 actor, dies

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NEW: George Lucas says Baker was the "heart and soul" of R2-D2

Baker died Saturday after a long illness, his niece says

Fellow actors, fans remember him on social media

CNN  — 

Kenny Baker, the British actor who gave life to the droid R2-D2 in the “Star Wars” films, has died at the age of 81, according to his niece, Abigail Shield.

Baker was being looked after by Shield’s brother, who found him Saturday morning. Shield said Baker was ill for years with a lung condition.

She also said her uncle – who was 3 feet, 8 inches tall – did not expect to “live past his teenage years because he was a ‘little person,’ so it is pretty amazing he lived this long.”

Baker died in his sleep Saturday morning, according to his nephew and caregiver Andrew Myerscough.

That was Baker’s wish – to go peacefully, his nephew said. “I couldn’t ask for more.”

Up until his final moments, Baker was in good spirits and was watching the Olympics on television, Myerscough said.

‘An inspiration to many’

But the actor’s family watched him deteriorate for years because of respiratory problems.

“I cared for him every day,” Myerscough said. “He was a huge part of my life and I’m going to miss him.”