Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966) was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon, and philanthropist. Disney is famous for his influence in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. As the co-founder (with his brother Roy O. Disney) of Walt Disney Productions, Disney became one of the best-known motion picture producers in the world. The corporation he co-founded, now known as The Walt Disney Company, today has annual revenues of approximately U.S. $35 billion.
Disney is particularly noted for being a film producer and a popular showman, as well as an innovator in animation and theme park design. He and his staff created some of the world's most famous fictional characters including Mickey Mouse, a character for which Disney himself was the original voice. He has been awarded four honorary Academy Awards and has won twenty-two competitive Academy Awards out of fifty-nine nominations, including a record four in one year, giving him more awards and nominations than any other individual. He also won seven Emmy Awards. He is the namesake for Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in the United States, as well as the international resorts Tokyo Disney, Disneyland Paris, and Disneyland Hong Kong.
Disney died of lung cancer in Burbank, California, on December 15, 1966. The following year, construction began on Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. His brother Roy Disney inaugurated the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971.
In October 1966, Disney was scheduled to undergo neck surgery for an old polo injury; he had played frequently at the Riveria Club in Hollywood for many years. On November 2, 1966, during pre-surgery X-rays, doctors at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center across the street from the Disney Studio discovered that Disney had an enormous tumor on his left lung. Five days later, Disney went back to the hospital for surgery for both his neck injury, as well as to have the tumor removed, but within the short time, the tumor had spread to such great extent that the surgical doctors had to remove his entire left lung. The doctors then told Disney that he only had six months to a year to live. After several chemotherapy sessions, Disney and his wife spent a short amount of time in Palm Springs, California on vacation, before returning home. On November 30, 1966, Disney collapsed in his home from a heart attack, but was revived by paramedics, and was taken back to the hospital, where he died on December 15, 1966, at 9:30 a.m., ten days after his 65th birthday. The last thing he reportedly wrote before his death was the name of actor Kurt Russell, but even Russell himself does not know what Disney meant.
Disney was cremated on December 17, 1966, and his ashes reside at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Roy O. Disney continued to carry out the Florida project, insisting that the name be changed to Walt Disney World in honor of his brother.
The final productions in which Disney had an active role were the animated features The Jungle Book and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, and the live-action musical comedy The Happiest Millionaire, both released in 1967. Songwriter Robert B. Sherman said about the last time he saw Disney:
“He was up in the third floor of the animation building after a run-through of The Happiest Millionaire. He usually held court in the hallway afterward for the people involved with the picture. And he started talking to them, telling them what he liked and what they should change, and then, when they were through, he turned to us and with a big smile, he said, 'Keep up the good work, boys.' And he walked to his office. It was the last we ever saw of him.”
A long-standing urban legend maintains that Disney was cryogenically frozen, and his frozen corpse was stored underneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. The first known instance of cryogenic freezing of a corpse occurred a month later, in January 1967.