His last public appearance
HOLLYWOOD–Production on the latest sequel in the Star Wars franchise has been put on indefinite hiatus following the sudden, shocking death of R2D2, one of the series’ most beloved and enduring stars. Episode VII in the long-running film series was scheduled to begin filming later this month. There has been no official cause of death for the robot actor, who collapsed early Sunday morning outside Perversion, a Hollywood nightclub. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.
“The entire cast and crew is in shock,” says director JJ Abrams, “They’re a very tight-knit group. Mark Hamill is an absolute mess. He’s just really into electronics.”
R2D2 began his acting career in the early seventies, landing his break in the classic gangster film, The Godfather, as a trash can in Vito Corleone’s office. His performance impressed director Francis Ford Coppola so much that he recommended the young actor to his friend, George Lucas, when he was casting the original Star Wars.
“I hadn’t considered having a robot in the film,” says Lucas, “But R2D2 nailed the audition. He was so good that I changed the focus of the piece from an erotic tale of forbidden love between two siblings to the space opera it became. I started auditioning more robots, and that’s how we discovered C3P0.”
When Star Wars was released in 1977, audiences were immediately drawn to the electric sexual chemistry between R2D2 and C3P0. And the sparks continued to fly after the cameras stopped rolling.
“You could see a romance blossoming,” says Harrison Ford, “But it was a pretty volatile relationship from the start. They were sort of like Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. They would have these knock down, drag out fights, but when the cameras were rolling, they made some beautiful music. C3Po is Stevie Nicks in that analogy.”
By the time filming was completed on Return of the Jedi, the third film in the series, R2D2 was a worldwide superstar. But his success had led him to heavy drinking and eventually a crippling addiction to morphine and cocaine. Soon after the film premiered, C3P0 moved out of the couple’s mansion and R2D2 was at rock bottom.
By the late eighties, R2D2 was unable to land any major film roles. He only acted sporadically, playing a barstool on an early episode of Cheers, and a washing machine on Full House. His career was in shambles, but, although Lucas and the entire cast was eager to make more Star Wars films, R2D2 refused to reconcile with C3P0. Without their involvement, no studio would finance the project.
“I tried to help him out,” says Ford, “I got him a job on The Fugitive, playing a traffic cone, but he showed up 30 pounds overweight and stinking of whiskey. He was fired before he ever filmed a scene.”
Finally, in 1997, R2D2 landed a role on the NBC hit, Seinfeld, playing a mail box. It was the role that rekindled the newly sober robot’s love for acting. He called up C3P0, ready to make amends. Then they both contacted George Lucas. They were ready to make more Star Wars films, but there was a catch. R2D2 refused to work with anyone from the original cast, except for C3P0.
On the set of Seinfeld
“He felt like we had abandoned him,” says Mark Hamill, “Which is ridiculous. I hadn’t had a fucking decent job in nearly 20 years. What did he want me to do, hire him to mow my lawn? It seemed like the morphine had really fried his circuits. But, dammit, I still loved the guy.”
Without the majority of the original cast, the new trilogy proved disappointing, if hugely successful. By the time Revenge of the Sith, the last in the series to be released, had ended its theatrical run, R2D2 vowed never to make another Star Wars film with Lucas involved.
“He had some issues with the films,” Lucas says, “And in retrospect, he was right. It was ridiculous to have R2D2 fly. I was leaning a little too heavily on technology, and, ironically, it took a robot to make me realize that.”
In order to keep his beloved franchise alive, Lucas sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney, ensuring R2D2’s involvement with any future films. R2D2 even agreed to work with all the members of the original cast. But his involvement ended when he died on that cold, Hollywood sidewalk.
“He was so excited about the prospect of a new trilogy,” says Abrams, “He was even pitching ideas for the scripts. Episode VII was going to feature more R2D2 than any of the previous films. Right now all we are doing is trying to process that he’s really gone. Then we’ll figure out where to go from there.”
R2D2 was born in 1958 in Tokyo. He is survived by his special friend, C3Po, and a son from a previous relationship, DD-1000, a dish washer who lives in Cleveland.