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Looking back at December 1966 & Walt Disney's passing

Looking back at December 1966 & Walt Disney's passing

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Roy O. Disney, Walt's older brother, visited Walt Disney in his St. Joseph's hospital room on the night of December 14, 1966. Cobalt treatments for Walt's lung cancer had diminished his strength and robbed him of his appetite.

The drugs also seem to make Walt confused at times. During that last visit, Walt was intent on discussing the Disney World/EPCOT project with his brother. Pointing at the acoustical tiles on the ceiling of his hospital room to use as reference, Walt shared with Roy his plans. At one point, he smiled and forcefully said, "There! That's the spot!" His confused brother asked him to explain. "That's where we'll put a bench so that Lilly and I can sit and see all the happy people coming in."

Elated by Walt's enthusiasm, Roy returned home to his wife that night and told her: "I think he's got a good chance of making it." The next morning at 9:30 am, Walt Disney passed away from acute circulatory collapse brought on by the complications of lung cancer.

Disney stock actually rose ten points after Walt's death based on rumors that the company might be acquired by a large corporation. Roy responded with "God help us if we had to be absorbed into some big conglomerate mess. We'd have to be running pretty scared to agree to that sort of thing. And we're not scared."

Walt had a small private funeral. Walt's wife Lilly, their two daughters and their husbands, Roy and Edna and their son and daughter-in-law sat in a tiny chapel at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. The only flowers were a wreath sent by Roy Edward Disney and his wife, Patty. The family had requested that in lieu of flowers that contributions be made to the California Institute of the Arts.

There were tributes in newspapers and television commentaries (including Eric Sevareid's famous CBS Evening News tribute declaring "he was an original; not just an American original, but an original, period.") Roy declared that the official name of the Florida Project would be Walt Disney World. "Everybody knows the Ford car, but not everybody knows it was Henry Ford who started it all. It's going to be WALT Disney World, so people will always know that this was Walt's dream."

Roy issued a statement to the public, the stockholders and the more than four thousand Disney employees at the time that has often had a sentence or two quoted in articles and books, but for readers of this site, here is the entire text of Roy's statement:
"The death of Walt Disney is a loss to all people of the world. In everything he did, Walt had an intuitive way of reaching out and touching the hearts and minds of young and old alike. His entertainment was an international language. For more than forty years, people have looked to Walt Disney for the finest quality in family entertainment.

There is no way to replace Walt Disney. He was an extraordinary man. Perhaps there will never be another like him. I know that we who worked at his side for all these years will always cherish the years and the minutes we spent in helping Walt Disney entertain the people of the world. The world will always be a better place because Walt Disney was its master showman.

As president and chairman of the board of Walt Disney Productions, I want to assure the public, our stockholders, and each of our more than four thousand employees that we will continue to operate Walt Disney's company in the way that he established and guided it. Walt Disney spent his entire life, and almost every waking hour, in the creative planning of motion pictures, Disneyland, television shows, and all other diversified activities that have carried his name through the years. Around him, Walt Disney gathered the kind of creative people who understood his way of communicating with the public through entertainment. Walt's ways were always unique, and he built a large organization, a team of creative people that he was justifiably proud of.

I think Walt would have wanted me to repeat his words to describe the organization he built over the years. Last October, when he accepted the "Showman of the World" award in New York, Walt said:

"The Disney organization now has more than four thousand employees. Many have been with us for over thirty years. They take great pride in the organization which they helped to build. Only through the talent, the labor, and the dedication of this staff could any Disney project get off the ground. We all think alike in the ultimate pattern."

Much of Walt Disney's energies had been directed to preparing for this day. It was Walt's wish that when the time came, he would have built an organization with the creative talents that carry on as he had established and directed through the years. Today this organization has been built, and we will carry out this wish.

Walt Disney's preparation for the future is a solid, creative foundation. All of the plans for the future that Walt had begun -new motion pictures, the expansion of Disneyland, television production, and our Florida and Mineral King projects- will continue to move ahead. That is the way Walt wanted it to be."

For those more interested in the specifics of Walt's passing and the fact that he was cremated and not frozen, I would recommend visiting this website http://www.snopes.com/disney/waltdisn/frozen.htm#add ,which has not only an outstanding essay discounting the "Walt is frozen" myth but also features copies of Walt's death certificate, Walt's will and a picture of Walt's burial marker. The family, especially Roy, lingered at Walt's bedside for quite some time after Walt's death which would not have been the case if the body had needed to be rushed to a cryogenic chamber. The first person officially cryogenically frozen was in 1967 and since that time no one who has been frozen has been revived.

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