Walt Disney, the man who began the media empire we know today, has been gone for over 55 years. But just how did a man so full of life and energy die?
A famous story is that in 1965, Disney executives presented Walt with a film on his life called “The Disney Image.” After it was done, Walt was quiet before rising up and, before walking out, remarked, “I feel like I’ve just watched my own eulogy.” Sadly for Walt, he was only a year off.
Anyone who met Walt Disney will talk about the man’s incredible energy. He barely seemed to rest, going day and night at the company, overseeing everything from movie productions to the latest theme park attractions. It was common for Walt to do mornings of meetings, an afternoon at Disneyland, and then all night in his office.
It became a bigger deal in 1965 as Walt announced his plans for Disney World, which he imagined as an actual liveable city. With that and the exciting projects to come, few could imagine Walt would be gone in a year.
What was the reason for Walt’s death?
Walt had been a smoker since World War I, from unfiltered cigarettes to a pipe. While he was never shown smoking on camera, it was a constant habit. Like many of his time, Walt was unaware of the dangers smoking had, which would come back to bite him.
Mid-way through 1966, people began noticing Walt looking more haggard and tired. He visited the hospital, claiming it was treatment for an old injury. In reality, Walt had been diagnosed with lung cancer, undergoing several operations to try and remove the tumors.
In early December, Walt collapsed and was rushed to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California. His cancer was too aggressive, and he died on December 15 at the age of 65.
While there is the urban myth Walt had himself frozen, the reality is he was cremated and the urn of his ashes was interred in Glendale’s famous Forest Lawn Memorial Park. His death did change the company, including creating what we know as Walt Disney World and a question of how much Walt could have accomplished if he lived even another five years.
It was bitter to see Walt dying like this, yet an illustration of how even the men most filled with life can succumb to something like cancer.