Tony Dyson, the man who gave the world one of its most iconic onscreen robots when he constructed Star Wars droid R2-D2, has died on the Maltese island of Gozo. He was 68. The Times of Malta reported that he probably died of natural causes.
Self-described on his Facebook page as “R2-D2’s Dad,” Dyson was a familiar face at various sci-fi conventions and once described the development of R2 as one of the most exciting periods of his life. He was an employee of the UK’s White Horse Toy Company when George Lucas commissioned him to construct a variety of R2 prototypes. In all, Dyson built eight versions, all designed by Ralph McQuarrie and SFX wizard John Stears, including the cute little bot that became a cultural touchstone.
On his website, Dyson boasted like a proud father: R2-D2, he recently wrote, “was the first to be added to the galaxy of stars to appear in Episode VII. The love for R2 is universal; no other Star Wars character has been loved over the years the way R2-D2 has, his merchandising has rocketed over the years and his influence in the world of robotics is truly remarkable. People of all ages and backgrounds are fascinated and intrigued by the little follow; they ask me: How he was built? How did I get the job? How many R2’s did I build, what it feels like to have created and built a movie icon?”
In addition to his Star Wars contribution, Dyson’s visual effects credits include Superman II, Moonraker and Dragon Slayer, in addition to various corporate gigs.
Few details were available about cause of death, but the Times of Malta reports that police do not suspect foul play. BBC is reporting that an autopsy is being performed. Police were notified by neighbors when they noticed his door open, but foul play is not suspected.