December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966
“Mickey Mouse is, to me, a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end.”
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago. Walt lived most of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri and showed an interest in drawing and art early in his life.
He was rejected by the army in 1918, because he was underage and instead he joined the Red Cross in France. He returned one year later, and wanted to pursue a career in commercial art. After a troubled start, he went to Hollywood at age 21 and slowly, but surely, made it to the top of the cartoon world.
The first Disney Studio in the Los Feliz area of LA.
Then Disney built this.
Then LA made it this.
On July 13, 1925, Walt married Lillian Bounds and three years later, Mickey Mouse was born. They would also be blessed with two daughters, Diane and Sharon.
Walt’s mother died acidentally and tragically in 1939. Read about that here.
Walt et al lived behind these gates in Holmby Hills, very close to where Barbra Streisand lived.
Here’s the Disney mailbox.
Lots of movies and Disney parks later, Walt was diagnosed with lung cancer caused by many years of smoking. He preferred to smoke unfiltered Lucky Strikes, but later switched to Gitanes, French cigarettes. (Lungbusters.) Legend is that Walt’s cough always alerted his employees that he was approaching.
He had been complaining of pain in his neck and back so on November 2, 1966 he entered St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank, CA. An X-ray revealed a tumor (The actual quote is, and here it comes again, his left lung was riddled with tumors the size of walnuts. Mmm.) on his left lung and surgery was advised. Walt, however, left the hospital to finish some studio business and re-entered the hospital on November 6. Surgery was performed the next day and his left lung was found to be cancerous and was removed.
Disney was released from the hospital two weeks later. After spending Thanksgiving Day with his family, he collapsed at his home in Palm Springs on November 30 and was driven back to St. Joseph’s. He would lose consciousness regularly in the days to come. He spent his 65th birthday in a hospital bed with his wife and children at his bedside.
Lillian spent some time with him on December 14 and he was visited by his brother, Roy, in the evening, who left the room crying. Roy ordered the lights at the Disney Studio across the street, to stay on at all times. Walt would ask the nurses to prop him up so he could see the studios. He died a few hours later, at 9:30 AM on Thursday, December 15, 1966.
Here is an odd rumor: The last thing Walt Disney did before he died was write the words, “Kurt Russell” on a piece of paper. Kurt himself has confirmed this, but then why wouldn’t he? Who wouldn’t want to be the answer to a trivia question?
The cause of Disney’s death was announced as acute circulatory collapse and was listed as cardiac arrest on his death certificate. The cancer in his lungs was probably considered to be of secondary importance.
Disney’s funeral was held at the Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn Glendale at 5:00 PM on December 16. No announcements of his funeral were made, only close relatives were in attendance. Walt didn’t like funerals and rarely attended one.
“When I’m dead I don’t want a funeral. I want people to remember me alive.”
He was cremated and his cremains are interred in a vault at Forest Lawn.
J. Edgar Hoover said, he was deeply saddened by Disney’s death, Samuel Goldwyn lost a great friend and President Johnson sent his condolences to Disney’s wife.
A rumor was spread soon after Disney’s death, that he was cryogenically frozen. My favorite is that he is buried in a Snow White dress in a glass casket. The Disney family denies this. Party poopers.
31 years and one day later, Mrs. Disney, Lillian, died. Apparently Lillian persuaded Walt to name his mouse character Mickey instead of Mortimer. Mickey Rooney always claimed that Mickey Mouse was named after him, but that miserable little prick is a liar.
Findadeath.com friend, EJ Fleming, sends us this: The Disney family hired Thelma Pearl Howard as a housekeeper and nanny type for their kids in the early 1950’s. She lived with them for years, died in 1994 at 79. Beginning in the 1950’s Disney gave her holiday and birthday gifts of Disney stock, and told her never to sell it. She never knew how much she had, how many shares, how much they were worth, etc. They were just pieces of paper to her. When she died, she had been living in a small apartment in L.A. on a Disney pension with her mentally handicapped son. Her executors found her Disney stock was worth over $10,000,000. She didn’t even know how many shares she had. She left half in a trust for her son, who is in a group home, and the other half in a charitable trust.
This is a personal family story, from my Aunt Mary.
My Aunt was in the Marines. She noticed that… well, I will let her explain it in a letter she wrote to my mother in 1945:
Here is a little souvenir I told you I’d send you. It’s our squadron patch, we wear them on our field jackets. The AURS3 means aviation Women Reserves Squadron 3. Here is the story:
A poem by Sgt. Dottie Cunningham (bunks next to me) to Walt Disney inspired the Hollywood cartoon master to draw the first insignia for a Women Marine Air Squadron. Motive of the insignia is a caricature of a female cricket wearing overalls and cap with visor as she walks pointily along with an enormous pair of pliers in hand. The poem:
Dear Mr. Disney, will you hear our plea?
We’re the Women Marines of Aviation Squadron 3.
We have no insignia, no listing sign
Would it be possible for you to make us a design?
We live in El Centro, where the climate is hot
Out in the desert, the country God forgot.
We’re constantly plagued by crickets and flies
The insects, they bite us, in our bunks as we lie.
The above tells you something about where we stay
Now about the girls as they work through the day.
We work on planes and help the fliers
We drive the trucks, we’re handy with the pliers
We rig up the chutes, we work on the line
Our operators are ready to give us the time.
We work all day, we work all night
We really are rehearsing men for the flight.
We’ve seen the insignia of El Toro, the bull
The wolf on the bottle, the dragon so cruel
But we have crickets, which we abhor
Little black bugs that crawl on the floor.
Mr. Disney, will you let us know
If you’ll make us an insignia which we can show.
To all the world and them to say
“Those are the fighting MPs down El Centro Way!”
This is what arrived. I cherish this patch. It was created 5 years after Jiminy Cricket was created, and you can certainly see the influence.
Now, back to the trash.
An amusing article I read was written by a man who worked for Disney. “As we finished our first lunch together, my roommates and I were surprised to see Snow White, Cinderella and Pocahontas sitting down in the next booth. It seemed like it was going to be a special moment, but we had no idea how special until we saw that Snow White was smoking and Cinderella had a pissed-off sneer on her lips as she sipped her coffee. For the next 10 minutes we listened to them dish: Mary Poppins had a big butt, Ariel was a slut. When she finished her cigarette, Snow White got up. “Fuck this,” she sighed, and left the cafeteria. I glanced over at my roommate across the table. He had a sick look on his face. “My childhood,” he gasped, “has just been decimated.?”
In 1998, four cheetahs, a hippopotamus and two rhinos died in Disney’s new Animal Kingdom theme park. Also, within 6 months, two otters and a pair of West African cranes also died.
Over the years, several deaths have occurred at Disneyland in Anaheim. The Disneyland Death Tour:
May 1964: 15 year old boy was killed standing up on the Matterhorn.
June 1966: 19 year old kid was killed sneaking into Disneyland on the Monorail.
August 1967: 17 year old boy killed on the now defunct People Mover.
June 1973: 18 year old drowns trying to swim across the Rivers of America.
June 1980: another kid was killed on the People Mover.
June 1983: another 18 year old drowned in the Rivers of America trying to reach the Tom Sawyer Island in a raft. He hit a rock and fell out.
January 1984: a 48 year old woman stands up on the Matterhorn and is killed.
On Christmas Eve 1998: The ship Columbia was pulling into the dock when an overzealous employee tied a rope from the ship to a metal cleat, before it stopped moving.
This is an example of a cleat that is not metal, but you get the idea.
Zam POW. The cleat was ripped from the dock and wailed into the crowd, nailing one employee in the leg, and a man in the head. Two days later, they declared him brain dead, and he was taken off life support. The cleats have been replaced with these.
I’m sure his family is very very well off right now. I found it funny-ish that was painted on the ship.
Findadeath.com friend, Stephen, reminded me: There was a time in the not-so-distant past that Disneyland would make sure that bodies were removed from the park, and pronounced dead elsewhere. That way, the Disneyland address would never show up on a death certificate. TRUE story.
It’s not uncommon for Disneyland to have to shut down Pirates of the Carribean and The Haunted Mansion because people scatter cremated remains of relatives. They have to be sure it’s not anthrax. TRUE story.
Findadeath.com friend, Coors, sends in this: Another death occurred at Disneyland. A woman named Deborah Stone was crushed to death in “America Sings”. The rotating room moved viewers around in a circle from stage to stage … she was crushed while attempting to move to another stage while the stage was turning. Findadeath friend, Ralph, supplies us with this link. Thanks!
From Findadeath friend, Joni: I worked for Disney World for a while and noticed that you didn’t mention the death on Splash Mountain. You know the one where the moron decided he was going to get off the ride (even though it tells you not to!) before it took the plunge? Dumb move! This happened either last year or the year before. Thanks, Joni!
Around Halloween, they change the Haunted Mansion to the theme of A Nightmare Before Christmas.
This is the hearse
BOO! I hate it.
If you don’t pack a flask, this is the only place in Disneyland where you can get a drink. Good luck getting in.
Other Disney deaths of note: Eleanor Audley died on November 25, 1991. She was the voice of the evil stepmother in Cinderella, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, and Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion.
January 13, 2000 saw the death of Marc Davis, one of Disney’s inner circle. Marc was a “ladies man,” in that he created female characters, Tinkerbell, Cruella De Vil and Cinderella.
March of 2000 saw the death of David Gengenback, who oversaw the creation of the Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Another legend: Uncle Walt was an informer for the FBI.
February 2003, from Findadeath friend, Mark Allen:
Walt Disney’s widow’s died 31 years and one day after Walt, on December 16, 1997, from a stroke. She was 98 years old. Their adopted daughter, Sharon, died from cancer on February 16, 1993, the day after Lillian’s birthday. Thanks for the info, Mark!UPDATE February 2006, from Findadeath friend, Jennifer:
Hi Scott, I am looking at your Findadeath.com site and came across some info about deaths at Disneyland under the “Walt Disney” section. There is one important death that you left out — the gruesome death of 18 year old Disney cast member, Debbi Stone. Debbi was crushed to death in the America Sings attraction on July 8, 1974. The building is still there in Tomorrowland. At the time, the building had one fixed center stage and then multiple theaters that rotated around the stage in a clockwise (or is it counterclockwise?) direction. Debbi was apparently standing on the fixed stage and tried to jump into one of the theaters just before it completed its rotation.
Unfortunately she didn’t make it and was crushed to death in a space only a few inches wide. They had to cut the walls around her to remove her body. Oddly, this is something that has both fascinated and horrified since I first heard about it as a kid. From approximately 1992-1994, I worked at Disneyland and met somebody that was as interested as I was in finding out what happened. We went to the scene several times, took pictures, visited her family and grave and obtained a copy of the coroner’s report. I know that this is not necessarily your area of interest, but I thought you might find it interesting.
Also, there are books that were written about deaths at D-Land (Mouse Tales). Before the second one was published, we spoke with the author and actually provided him with most of his info about Debbi.
Is this not the most AMAZING photograph ever taken at Disneyland?
LOVE THIS TRIVIA and it sounds very Disney.
My friend Richard Carradine also wrote a fun book about Disneyland Hauntings.
Thank you very much, Mark Holland, for help with this profile.
Look for Disney art here.