Was Walt Disney’s Body Cryogenically Frozen?

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Walt Disney is arguably one of the most well-known and beloved figures in popular culture. After all, he is the man who single-handedly gave us Disneyland, Disneyworld, and the world of imagination and movies known as the Disney empire. When he passed away in 1966, the world mourned the loss of the inventor of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. People also started spreading rumors about his death.

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Chances are, you’ve heard at least one of the popular rumors surrounding Disney’s death and you don’t even remember who told you about it. What is it? The whispered idea that Walt Disney had himself cryogenically frozen and placed deep beneath the paradise he created: Disneyland.

Was Walt Disney’s Body Frozen?

Walt Disney, the beloved animator and imagination tycoon, passed away on December 15, 1966. At the time, Disney had been battling aggressive lung cancer that was discovered after he went for a checkup to find the source of leg and neck pain. A chest x-ray revealed a walnut-sized tumor in his left lung. 

When doctors went in to surgically remove the lung, they discovered that the cancer had spread into his lymph nodes and much of his body. They immediately began treatment for cancer after he recovered from surgery. Unfortunately, the cancer had progressed so far that his body couldn’t endure treatments. After only two weeks, the popular icon passed away.

Disney’s death was not the end of the legend, however. In some ways, Disney grew larger than life, and even his death was shrouded in mystery and rumor. One rumor became so associated with Disney that practically everyone who heard of Walt Disney heard about the rumor. What is it?

That he was frozen through cryonic preservation and is stored in a freezer. Some even claimed that his cryogenically frozen body was stored underneath Cinderella’s Castle or the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

As much as everyone would love to see Walt Disney come back from the grave (or freezer) to continue creating and directing his massive empire, the fact of the matter is that Walt Disney was not frozen.

In fact, the first cryonic preservation occurred a month after Disney died when psychologist Dr. James Bedford was frozen and eventually placed into ALCOR’s care. How and why the rumor about Walt Disney got started and what actually happened to him, we’ll discuss below. For now, just know that only Elsa is Frozen and Walt Disney is not buried underneath his magical kingdom. 

Where Did This Rumor Start?

The rumor that Walt Disney had himself frozen and buried in a vault underneath a popular attraction gained steam years after his death. The concept of cryonic preservation started getting noticed in the 1950s and 60s with a major boost to its popularity arriving with Robert Ettinger’s book, The Prospect of Immortality, in 1964. 

Since Walt Disney passed away in 1966, the idea that he could have heard of this idea is plausible. However, did he state that he wished his remains to be cryonically preserved? No. So where did the rumors come from? There are three rumor origins and one theory as to why the rumor gained such a foothold in popular culture.

Rumor origin number 1: Leonard Mosley’s 1986 biography Disney’s World

Mosely’s book came twenty years after the death of Disney. Needless to say, there was plenty of time to fact-check his assertions, speak with family, executives, and close friends to find out the truth and maintain truthfulness in his biography. Unfortunately, he appeared to do none of the above.

In Mosley’s book, he claimed that Disney became fascinated and interested in the cryonic process as his health declined. The book also claims that surgeons kept the entire surgically removed lung to put it back when he was later preserved and brought back to life.

There are two serious issues with these statements. First, Disney died less than a month after finding out he had cancer, leaving little time to look into and ponder such scientific theories. Second, only samples of the lung were preserved for the reason of scientific study and they were preserved in formaldehyde. Since his book came out, much of Mosley’s statements have been discredited.

Rumor origin number 2: Marc Elliot’s 1993 biography Walt Disney - Hollywood’s Dark Prince

The second of two biographies came out in 1993 from Marc Elliot. Similar to Mosley, his sources were unnamed and his statements were largely discredited by authorities on Disney, including his family members. His book, however, continued perpetuating the theory that Disney was obsessed with death and wanted to preserve his body at all costs.

Elliot claims that Disney had a “growing preoccupation with his own mortality” and that he told his brother, Roy, he wished to be frozen. This statement, however, is blatantly false. Not one single Disney family member had conversations along these lines, and his daughter later stated that she doubted Walt had even heard of the theory of cryonics.

Rumor origin number 3: An employee joke

In Mosley’s book, he references “colleagues and advisers” as the sources of his information. While all those in Walt’s immediate circles deny any conversations about cryonics, there is a thought that some employees might have gotten a kick out of making an even greater legend out of the legendary figure and perpetuated the rumor about his final wishes.

Why the rumor became so widespread

If both biographies and the sources were all discredited, how did the rumor about Disney become so widespread? Answer: People wanted it to be true.

By the time Disney passed away, he had far surpassed simply a popular icon and was a household name in America. People affectionately called him “Uncle Walt,” and he was seen as everyone’s friend. He was the maker of dreams come true and imagination come to life. 

He was also the inventor of Disneyland’s ever-popular “Tomorrowland” where kids of all ages could see the latest prototypes of flying cars and technological gadgets that the people of tomorrow would use at work and home. He even came up with Epcot where he envisioned inventors, engineers, and creators coming together to create the technology of the future.

So, was it far-fetched to believe that futuristic and imagination-driven Disney would consider cryonic preservation as his preferred method of interment? The idea struck a chord among Disney lovers young and old and even persists today.

Even though the theory has been disproved, you can still find believers who wait for the Disney empire to reveal the long-hidden truth that Walt is resting under Pirates of the Caribbean.

What Really Happened to Walt Disney’s Body?

As sensational as it would be to see Walt Disney returned to life, this is the least likely thing to happen in the future of mankind. In fact, Mars might get colonized first. Why? Simply put, Walt Disney was cremated.

It was widely known by his friends and close family that Walt wasn’t interested in having a funeral for himself. He stated early on that when he passed, he wanted a simple, family-only affair and wanted to be cremated.

In line with these wishes, Walt was cremated two days after his death and interred in the Disney family plot at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. For the unbelievers who still believe his grave isn’t enough proof, the family purchased the plot for $40,000. They had a quiet, family-only funeral the day after his death and interred his cremains when he was cremated the day after.

Today, the question persists about Walt Disney’s remains. In 2016, Abigail Disney, Walt’s grand-niece, was asked whether Walt was frozen on Mo Rocca’s news program. Her words to Mo were a resounding no. She laughed and replied, “He is not. We don’t have him in an ice cube tray in the freezer, no. Not frozen. I was at the funeral, remember it well. No, not frozen.”

Where Can You Find Walt Disney’s Remains Today?

After Walt Disney was cremated, his ashes were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California in the family plot. Though the cemetery will not officially tell you where the plot is located, a quick Google search will lead you to the spot. Like many celebrity graves, the location isn’t published by the cemetery, but it isn’t hidden from the public. 

The Disney plot is located in a private, gated garden called the Little Garden of Communion. This spot is just outside the entrance to the Freedom Mausoleum and looks like a little slice of Disney garden heaven with lush greenery, a statue, flowering bushes, and well-trimmed trees.

Disney’s is one of many famous gravesites at Forest Lawn, along with the likes of Michael Jackson, Jimmy Stewart, Nat King Cole, Errol Flynn, Sammy Davis Jr., and William Wrigley Jr. The grave marker for Disney’s family plot lists Walt Disney, Lilian Disney, Robert Brown (a son-in-law), and Sharon Disney Brown Lund, with room for several more family members.

Walt’s, Lilian’s, and Robert’s ashes are all interred in the family plot, but Sharon’s plaque notes that her ashes were “scattered in paradise.” While cremation itself is a common burial alternative, Sharon’s grave marker demonstrates that she chose a cremation interment alternative and had her ashes scattered in a place she chose, rather than burying them in the family plot.

Remembering Disney’s Creative Genius

Walt Disney was and is a legend whose influence will continue long after his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are no longer with us. While he may not get to come back from the dead, his legacy will continue inspiring thousands to dream and imagine what the world of tomorrow can be.


Sources:
  1. Eschner, Kat. “The First Cryonic Preservation Took Place Fifty Years Ago Today.” Smart News, Smithsonian, 12 January 2017. smithsonianmag.com
  2. Markel, Dr. Howard. “How a Strange Rumor of Walt Disney’s Death Became Legend.” Health, PBS, 17 December 2010. pbs.org   
  3. Mikkelson, David. “Was Walt Disney Frozen?” Disney, Snopes, 19 October 1995. snopes.com
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