RUBY WILSON, THE ‘QUEEN OF BEALE STREET’
Ruby Wilson, the blues, soul and gospel singer known as “The Queen of Beale Street,” died Friday (Aug. 12), her manager said. She was 68.
Rollin Riggs, a partner at Resource Management Group, said Wilson died at a Memphis hospital. Riggs said she suffered a massive heart attack the previous Saturday and never regained consciousness.
According to a biography provided by Riggs, Wilson was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1948 and grew up singing in her church choir. She moved to Memphis in 1972, and became a fixture at Beale Street night clubs, including B.B. King’s Blues Club, where she had a regular weekly.
Wilson appeared in several films, including The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Chamber. She also sang in the choirs of several churches, including Rev. Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis.
Wilson had recovered from a 2009 stroke to continue her career, and she had performed at a benefit last week, Riggs said.
“She was an extraordinary ambassador for Memphis, and soul, and R&B and gospel,” Riggs said. “She had an exceptional stage presence that made you fall in love with her, no matter what style she was singing.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
KENNY BAKER, THE R2-D2 ROBOT IN ‘STAR WARS’
Kenny Baker, the British actor who rose to fame by playing the robot R2-D2 in six “Star Wars” films, died on Saturday. He was 81.
His death was confirmed by a spokeswoman for Lucasfilm, the company that created and produces the enormously popular “Star Wars” franchise.
Mr. Baker was a little person whose adult height was widely reported to be 3 feet 8 inches. He referred to his short stature as “my height difficulties” in an autobiographical sketch on his official website, but it would have been impossible for a taller man to play the role that made him famous.
“They said, ‘You’ve got to do it; we can’t find anybody else. You’re small enough to get into it and you’re strong enough to be able to move it,’” he said of R2-D2’s cylindrical metal costume in a video interview in Stockholm that he shared on his website. “I was a godsend to them, really.”
Mr. Baker was born on Aug. 24, 1934, in Birmingham, England. He began his entertainment career in 1950 as part of a traveling troupe in Britain called Burton Lester’s Midgets.
He soon left that act and toured the country for many years, performing in theaters, nightclubs and holiday resorts in a variety of roles: a circus clown, a performer in an ice-skating show and, later, as part of a musical comedy and variety act alongside the performer Jack Purvis. (Mr. Purvis also acted in “Star Wars,” playing the diminutive, cloaked Jawa who shoots R2-D2, Mr. Baker said.)
“This film came along and I turned it down,” Mr. Baker said during the interview in Stockholm. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be stuck in a robot, what for, for goodness sake.’”
He ultimately relented and agreed to take the job as a favor to George Lucas, he said. The role had no lines — the character’s signature beeps and boops were not voiced by Mr. Baker — and, seated inside the robot, he never showed his face. But R2-D2 so changed his career that in later years he told an interviewer that if he could go back in time, he would do it again for free.
“Had I known I would have done it for nothing because he was broke at the beginning, he didn’t have a penny, George,” Mr. Baker said.
But he might have asked for a share of the film’s profits, he said. “I’d be a millionaire like Alec Guinness was!”
Mr. Lucas said in a statement on Saturday that Mr. Baker was “an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances.” He added, “A talented vaudevillian who could always make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him.”
Mr. Baker played R2-D2 in six “Star Wars” films and also acted in a number of other high-profile movies, including “Mona Lisa,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Time Bandits” and “Amadeus.”
No information about his survivors was immediately available. His niece Abigail Shield first reported his death to The Guardian newspaper.