Farewell, Kenny Baker
I’m so sorry to hear that Kenny Baker passed away yesterday, at the age of 81. He was, by all accounts a very nice man. In fact, out of the main 1977 Star Wars main cast, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything but good things about him. For that alone, he was a great ambassador for Star Wars.
I almost met Kenny, once. It was my first Star Wars convention—or any kind of Con for that matter. It was Invasion, the Irish Star Wars convention which has been running for a few years in Ireland and Northern Ireland. There was a queue of folks all day long at his desk, but I didn’t join it. I’d never met a celebrity before, never mind asked for an autograph. I partly felt silly about doing such a thing, partly wondered what I might say to him which could possibly be interesting, but I also worried about meeting a childhood hero and being disappointed.
At about 5:45, when the event was finishing up, and more importantly, the celebrity guests had finished their day-long stint of signing and posing for photos, and were probably looking forward to a pint or two; I said to my wife that I was sorry that I hadn’t gone up to meet him and ask him to sign my comic adaptation. I dithered about on the spot as I watched him packing up his things for the night and saw my opportunity escaping from me. But Gabby said, “Go on John, go over to him. If you don’t you’ll always regret it.”
Sheepishly, I chose the tactful approach and went over to one of the staff. I apologised to her, and said that I’d love to show Kenny my comic and ask him if he’d honour me by autographing it. My worry then, was that it’d look like I was trying to get a freebie after the show, instead of queuing and paying like everyone else. I was holding the fee in my hand, and held it toward her, but she said, “Leave it with me, and I’ll have a word with Kenny. Just wait there.”
So she did, and we watched from a little distance away, as she showed Kenny the comic and he flicked through it, pausing now and then. Then he went back to the front cover and signed his name across it. It was as if my Star Wars comic had suddenly somehow merged with the actual classic Star Wars of my childhood: for real. I don’t think he even saw us, which was OK as I felt very self-conscious, silly and a bit of a nuisance. The young lady brought it back and handed the comic back to me. She smiled, held up her hands and said there was no charge. I’m sure he knew that I wasn’t going to sell the part of my comic which he signed for me. And my wife said, “He could probably tell that you were a true fan.” But it was also evidence of his decency.
He’d written his name across my original decades old artwork with a big thick blue permanent marker, but do you know what? I didn’t mind… really. I mean, how often does something like that happen to you? There was something magical about it. He hadn’t signed a photo or piece of merchandise, but he’d signed and somehow almost authenticated my home-made comic. I couldn’t help but think of what my 9 year old self would have thought! Would he have believed it possible? —that one of the pages he was drawing would ever be graced with the personal imprint of one of his heroes? Or that they would even see it? Probably not. Sat in a fairly remote Irish country village in 1977, the merest possibility—probably—seemed impossible. Especially nearly 4 decades hence.
I was and still am so grateful to Kenny, and I let the event organisers know, and I wrote to his biographer Ken Mills and passed on my thanks, too.
Not long after, my wife bought Kenny’s Biography for me for my birthday: From Tiny Acorns, The Kenny Baker Story. And I was absolutely delighted to receive it, not only signed by Kenny himself but along with a large colour photo print of Kenny signing it! That was such a nice touch.
I’m sad—but pleased that I have a couple of little mementos of him. So, farewell Kenny, you’ll be greatly missed. I’m sure I won’t be the first or the last person to say this, but for a small man—you made a heck of a big impression on the world.