photo of Walt Disney with animated Disney characters

Walt Disney Passes Away

On this day in 1966, the news that Walt Disney had passed away utterly shocked the world. Over the years, D23’s Scott Wolf has spoken to many Cast Members who were with the Company at that time. They all remember that day vividly. Disney Legend X Atencio remembered: “December 15 was traditionally when I bought my Christmas tree. When I got home here and got to thinking about it and sat, I just bawled my eyes out.” Disney Legend Harriet Burns remembered that as soon as she heard the news, “tears squirted out of my eyes…we knew he had gone back to St. Joseph’s Hospital but he had been there back and forth from time to time and had little things done. This was only 10 days after he’d been in for a meeting.” Connie Swanson Lane, who was the Disneyland Ambassador at the time, recalled: “It was like losing a family member. Very difficult. Most of us stayed at work because that’s what Walt would have wanted us to do. The flag was lowered at half mast. It was very, very hard, and I stood at Town Square for the retreat that night until the flag was totally lowered. It was my way of saying goodbye.” Almost spiritually, a phenomenon occurred at Walt’s park that evening, according to a story told to me by two people at different times. One of them was funnyman Don Payne, who for several years was a substitute for Wally Boag in the Golden Horseshoe Revue. He remembers, “I got the part to be in the barnyard unit in Fantasy on Parade for Christmas. The night the parade stepped off for the first time is the day Walt Disney died. That night, just before the performance started, we were standing back behind where Walt’s apartment was and it started snowing! In the work lights, you could see flakes of snow drifting down. They never hit the ground, but we were all looking, thinking, ‘How freaky is this? It doesn’t snow in Anaheim!’ It was cold and it was snowing.”