Disney on Ice: The Truth About Walt Disney and Cryogenics

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Forty-seven years ago today, the world lost a visionary when Walt Disney passed away at the age of 65.

Though he kept his habit away from the eyes of the children at his parks, Disney was a lifelong, three-pack-a-day smoker. The habit caught up with him on November 2, 1966, when an X-ray revealed a tumor on his left lung. On November 11, surgeons removed Walt’s left lung and gave him the bad news that the tumor had metastasized. Though they gave him six months to two years to live, Walt lasted just 34 days, succumbing to lung cancer on December 15.

Contrary to popular belief, Disney was cremated two days later—not frozen. After decades of speculation, his family finally decided they were tired of the rumor mill. In 2012, Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, told the Daily Mail that part of the reason the Disneys opened the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco was to combat some of the ridiculous rumors about her father’s life, including the Walt-cicle tall tale. “Other little kids would say to my kids, ‘Your grandfather is frozen, isn’t he?’ And I couldn’t let that stand,” Disney Miller said.

That little myth probably got started in 1972, when Bob Nelson, then the president of the Cryonics Society of California, gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times. Though what he specifically said was that Walt was not cryogenically frozen, even going so far as to say, “They had him cremated. I personally have seen his ashes,” what people likely remembered from the article was his statement that Walt wanted to be frozen.

He based this theory on the fact that Walt Disney Studios called Nelson prior to Disney’s death and asked elaborate questions about the process, the facilities, the staff, and their history. “The truth is, Walt missed out,” Nelson said. “He never specified it in writing, and when he died the family didn’t go for it. ... Two weeks later we froze the first man. If Disney had been the first it would have made headlines around the world and been a real shot in the arm for cryonics.”

So, mystery solved. Walt is not on ice; he's at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, buried with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law. (That's their plot in the picture above.)

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December 15, 2013 - 10:00am
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