December 15, 1966. Not a day to celebrate, like a wedding anniversary or Independence Day, but a day of remembrance like Pearl Harbor or 9-11. Ten days after his 65th birthday, Walter Elias Disney passed away following complications from lung surgery, 50 years ago today.
While Walt normally worked very hard not to let the public, especially the kids, see him smoking, he was a heavy smoker from his early years and it took its toll on his life. In November, 1966, Walt was to undergo surgery to repair a neck injury that he had suffered in a polo accident. An X-ray taken prior to surgery revealed a dark spot on his left lung that was identified as cancer. He recovered from the lung surgery and initially returned to work, but began feeling ill by the end of the month. He spent his remaining days in the hospital, never to return home.
Walt was someone who was not unlike the rest of us; loving and caring for his family and always striving to do better. Then again, he was someone who was so completely different. His imagination was larger than most could comprehend. He believed that “if you can dream it, you can do it,” and that mantra led him in all he pursued. He loved those things nostalgic, hence the design of Main Street in Disneyland that would take one back to a simpler period. At the same time, he also loved chasing new technology, whether it was a multiplane camera to create realistic animation or audio-animatronics for the park for the same effect.
But look at the legacy he left in his short 65 years. His ideas expanded so many areas, from the first talking cartoon to a theme park that is the gold standard around the world. The empire he created has continued to grow exponentially and is many times larger than when he departed. All of this simply from wanting to make people happy.
The spirit of Walt will live on for a very long time. He made it possible, even acceptable to escape into a fantasyland from the pressures and stresses of everyday; to be young or young-at-heart.
So with that, we say “Thank You, Walt,” for inspiring those dreamers and doers who have had that spark of imagination ignited. Here’s to the next generations of Disney fans and imagineers, no matter their age. May they catch your vision and imagination and carry this dream forward.