Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois to his parents Elias Disney and Flora Call Disney. He had three brothers and one sister. His family moved to a farm near Marceline, Missouri when Walt was young, which is where he developed his love for drawing and trains.
Childhood and Education
As a child, Walt loved to draw and was always sketching cartoons. He delivered newspapers and worked other odd jobs to help support his family. He attended McKinley High School in Chicago and took night courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. However, he dropped out at 16 to join the army but was rejected for being underage.
First Animation Efforts
In 1919, Walt moved to Kansas City and began experimenting with animation. He created shorts called Laugh-O-Grams and started his own studio. However, his company went bankrupt in 1923, so Walt and his brother Roy headed to Hollywood. There, they co-founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, which later became Walt Disney Productions.
|Born in Chicago, Illinois on December 5
|Lived on farm in Marceline, Missouri
|Moves to Chicago to pursue art
|Begins first animation efforts in Kansas City
|Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio founded with brother Roy
This table summarizes key dates from Walt Disney’s early life and entry into animation.
Hollywood Success and Building an Empire
After moving to Hollywood, Walt Disney continued to produce innovative cartoons like the Alice Comedies and his very successful Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series.
Creation of Mickey Mouse
After losing the rights to Oswald in 1928, Walt developed a new character named Mickey Mouse, who debuted in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie. Mickey Mouse became Walt’s first hugely popular creation and the precursor to bigger things to come from Disney.
Other Notable Creations from Era
Other notable Disney creations from his initial decades in Hollywood include:
- Minnie Mouse (1928)
- Pluto (1930)
- Goofy (1932)
- Donald Duck (1934)
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – Disney’s first feature film
Snow White was an unprecedented success in 1937 and allowed Disney to build a major movie studio to house his rapidly growing company. Subsequent classic feature films from Walt Disney Productions included Pinnochio (1940), Fantasia (1940), and Bambi (1942).
Theme Parks, Television, and a Media Empire
In the 1950s, Walt Disney began building his vision of giant theme parks, with Disneyland opening in California in 1955. He also became a television pioneer with shows like The Wonderful World of Disney and The Mickey Mouse Club captivating audiences in homes across America.
As Walt Disney’s health declined in the mid-1960s, he left behind a vast empire of beloved characters, feature films, television series, and theme parks that entertained people across generations.
Walt Disney’s Death and Posthumous Recognition
Walt Disney died from lung cancer complications on December 15, 1966 at the age of 65. After his death, the Walt Disney Company continued to grow into an entertainment and media giant through the leadership of Walt’s brother Roy and President Frank Wells in the late 1960s through the 1970s.
Succession Planning and Company Growth After Death
Though the loss of Walt was tremendous, the Disney Company had been set up for succession and continued its growth over the next decades, expanding with new theme parks worldwide and acquiring major brands like ABC and Marvel Entertainment. Disney remains one of the most prominent media corporations today.
Honors and Tributes
Some prominent honors for Walt Disney after his passing include:
- The creation of Disney World Resort in Florida which opened in 1971
- The opening of Epcot Center in 1982 (which Walt had begun planning)
- The establishment of The Disney Family Museum in 2009
- Induction as a Disney Legend in 1990
- Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 from President Johnson
Decades after his death, Walt Disney’s name remains synonymous worldwide with imagination, optimism, and childhood joy – his legacy continuing to grow substantively even long after he was gone.
How Old Was Walt Disney When He Died?
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966 at the age of 65 from complications related to lung cancer. He was just weeks away from his 65th birthday when he passed away. Disney had been a habitual smoker for much of his adult life, which contributed to his untimely death.
However, in just 65 years Walt built an unmatched empire of beloved animation, film, and theme parks that has continued to prosper even decades beyond his death thanks to his vision.
What Was Walt Disney’s First Big Success?
Walt Disney’s first major success was the creation of the classic cartoon character Mickey Mouse. After losing the rights to his Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series in 1928, Disney conceived Mickey along with Ub Iwerks.
The first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, debuted in 1928 and was a huge hit that propelled Mickey to stardom. This early popularity of Mickey Mouse gained Walt Disney’s studio much-needed recognition and investment that allowed it to rapidly grow its films and cartoons throughout the 1930s. Mickey remains amongst the most iconic cartoon characters in history and laid the foundation for the Disney empire.
What Was One of Walt’s Greatest Passions?
One of Walt Disney’s greatest passions was building and creating his bold visions for theme parks and other immersive worlds and experiences. Beginning with Disneyland which opened in 1955, Walt pioneered the concept of elaborate, family amusement parks.
He invested heavily in cutting-edge design, technology, and experiences to create magical spaces for children and adults alike. The huge popularity of Disneyland showed the public’s desire for escape and adventure. After Walt’s death, Disney World expanded on his vision on a much grander scale.
Through pioneering theme parks and now with expansions into cruise lines and planned communities, the Walt Disney Company continues pursuing Walt’s passion for transportive entertainment decades later.
What Type of Cancer Took Walt Disney’s Life?
Walt Disney passed away on December 15, 1966 after struggling with complications from lung cancer. It was just days after his 65th birthday. A lifelong smoker, Walt had first been diagnosed with lung cancer following a November 1966 physical.
Surgery removed his left lung and surrounding lymph nodes, but the cancer had spread. After a couple weeks in the hospital, Walt went home but died less than 3 weeks after his surgery. During his final weeks Walt was still engaged in discussions and plans for his vision of EPCOT and the expansion of Disney World, showing his commitment even while facing the end.
The origins of his fatal lung cancer likely stemmed from a smoking habit going back to World War I when he first picked up the habit like many soldiers.
How Much Was Walt Disney Worth at His Height?
At the height of his life and career before his death, Walt Disney’s net worth was about $50 million. Given his iconic status and the vast empire the Walt Disney company has built in the decades after his death, that inflation adjusted amount seems quite modest by today’s standards for the CEO of a global entertainment conglomerate.
$50 million was an immense sum in the 1960s nonetheless. And the Walt Disney Company was well structured to continue building on Walt’s vision after his death thanks to his forward-thinking leadership. The business value of the characters, stories, brands, and other intellectual property Walt helped to create has grown astronomically over the past 50+ years when competently managed by the Disney company.
It ensures that, though long passed, Disney’s net worth will continue rising substantially with time thanks to these still valuable creative assets he guided in his lifetime.
Walt Disney lived a uniquely American life, starting from humble midwestern beginnings before building one of the world’s largest entertainment empires based on imagination. His relentless work ethic and creative ambition fueled the development of timeless animated films, as well as theme parks and experiences that still delight families nearly a century later.
Disney pioneered marrying cutting-edge art and technology to create magical worlds and lovable characters that allowed audiences to escape and recharge. Mickey Mouse kickstarted an unrivaled roster of popular cartoons and movies like Snow White, Pinnochio, and more. Disneyland then brought these to life physically. While the company has transformed over decades, the foundation he built remains oriented around joy, storytelling, optimism, and quality.