Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the death of one of the greatest men of our time, Walt Disney. He lost a battle with lung cancer from his chain-smoking on December 15, 1966, at 9:35 am.
Here is some information you may not have known about Walt’s last days.
1. The last time Walt was seen on TV was for the opening dedication of New Orleans Square on July 24, 1966.
2. The final productions in which Disney had an active role were the animated feature The Jungle Book and the live-action musical comedy The Happiest Millionaire, both released in 1967.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction Walt personally worked on, besides concepts, which went on with the company decades into the future.
4. EXAMPLE: Imagineer Herb Ryman was working on concept sketches for the park in 1954 and came up with a land called True Life Land, which was named for Disney’s True Life Adventures (1948-1960) series. It was going to be modeled after New Orleans with a pirate theme. There was to be a shipwreck with overflowing treasure chests, a store/restaurant called Pieces of Eight, and a store/restaurant called Blue Beards Den. This was to all be added onto Frontierland. This concept all predates Disneyland but shows that Walt had an interest in adding pirates to his park. Walt’s dream of a completely themed pirates land wouldn’t be realized until the construction of Treasure Cove in Shanghai Disney, which opened June 16, 2016.
5. The only scene Walt saw completed from Pirates was the auctioneer scene. The Imagineers had set up the whole scene in the Burbank studio and put a wooden bench on wheels to push Walt through the scene at the proper pace.
6. They told Walt the studio was pushing them for a December opening. Walt asked if they would have it done by then and they said they didn’t think it would be perfect by then. Walt then told them not to approve the opening until everything was perfect, even if it took longer to complete.
7. It is said that Walt’s last visit to his “Magic Kingdom” was on October 14, 1966. He hosted a special event that awarded heroic soldiers with The Congressional Medal Of Honor.
8. On Walt’s last visit to the studio to check out the Pirates project, he visited Marc Davis and looked over the concept art for The Country Bear Jamboree. Marc said that Walt stayed as long as he kept showing him his artwork. He could tell there was something wrong with Walt. The last thing Walt said to Marc was “goodbye,” which was odd because he always said “see you later” or “keep up the good work.” (Marc is on the left)
9. On November 2nd, Walt had an x-ray done revealing a tumor in his left lung. The doctor gave him six months to two years to live. He had a two-week stay in the hospital and was able to return home for Thanksgiving.
10. Walt didn’t want people to know he was sick, so he blamed his doctor visits on an old polo injury.
11. He was admitted to the Providence St. Joseph Medical Center across the street from the Disney Studio on November 30th after he collapsed in his home.
12. He could see the Disney Studio across the street. Roy had ordered that the lights in the facility remained on so Walt could see it.
13. A long-standing urban legend maintains that Walt was cryogenically frozen, and his frozen corpse was stored underneath the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Disneyland. However, this was discredited due to the fact that Disney was cremated, and the first known instance of cryogenic freezing of a corpse (of Dr. James Bedford) occurred a month later, in January 1967.
14. The last photo of Walt in the park was taken on October 14, 1966, for promotional purposes. This would be his last trip to his “Magic Kingdom.”
15. The Last Thing Walt Wrote – It is said that on Walt’s deathbed he wrote down Kurt Russell’s name. Kurt was a recently acquired commodity of the studio as they had just signed him on with a 10-year contract. He would eventually be one of the greatest actors of the past 50 years, and more to come. He would eventually star in 21 films, or serials, for the Disney Company from 1966 through today. Walt did indeed write down “Kirt (sic) Russell” before he passed. The issue is that the paper he wrote on was at his desk at the studio. He hadn’t been to the studio in weeks because of his failing health. The paper with Kurt’s name was among other papers on the desk. There was something written below Kurt’s name, “CIA-Mobley.” It was for another young actor, Roger Mobley, who also starred in several Disney films. He had also written “2 Way Down Cellar,” referring to a two-part serial that he possibly wanted one of the boys to be a part of. We will never know the reasoning behind Walt’s note. Kurt himself confirmed that Walt did write his name down before he passed away, but didn’t know why. Ron Miller had taken him up to Walt’s office while he was on set filming Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972) to show it to him. The conclusion is that Walt more than likely wrote other things down since his last visit to his office, not to mention that Roger’s name was written after Kurt’s.
On Thursday, December 15, 1966, at 9:35 am, Walt Disney passed away due to his lung cancer from his lifelong habit of smoking.
Disney’s remains were cremated two days later, and his ashes interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
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