Kenny Baker, actor behind Star Wars R2-D2, dies at 81

Baker's nephew and carer, says his uncle was suffering from respiratory problems for almost a decade.

Kenny Baker, the British actor who played the plucky robot R2-D2 in the "Star Wars" movies, died after a long illness on Saturday at the age of 81 at his residence in Preston, northwest England.

"Kenny Baker has sadly passed away and was found on Saturday morning by his nephew Drew, who was also his carer in the latter part of his life," his agent Johnny Mans said in a statement to AFP.

"Kenny was truly a great friend, one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet and a fabulous and talented performer," he added.

Baker would have celebrated his 82nd birthday on August 24.

Drew Myerscough, Baker's nephew and carer, said his uncle was suffering from respiratory problems for almost a decade.

"The affection of 'Star Wars' fans around the world kept him going, without any doubt," Myerscough told Sky News.

"He was amazed that, even after 30-odd years, the fans still basically adored him," Myerscough added.

Baker shot to fame in 1977 with his resourceful droid character in 'Star Wars'.

He went on to play the character in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and in the three Star Wars prequels from 1999 to 2005.

Baker also appeared in a number of other films in the 1980s, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon.

Mark Hamill, the one who played the character of Luke Skywalker in the first three films, paid a tribute to his "lifelong loyal friend".

"I loved his optimism and determination," he wrote on Twitter.

Actor Ewan McGregor, who appeared in three Star Wars movies expressed his grief and posted on Twitter: "So sorry to hear about this. It was lovely working with Kenny. Kenny Baker, Star Wars R2-D2 actor, dies aged 81."