After his death in 1966, rumors emerged that Walt Disney's frozen body had been preserved in a cryogenic container.
When Walt Disney died on the morning of Dec. 15, 1966, the world lost a visionary. Innovative and creative, Disney had pioneered animated films and grown his small animation studio into an empire known across the world. But was Walt Disney’s body frozen after his death?
This rumor has dogged Disney since his demise. It grew out of Disney’s alleged fascination with the future — underlined by his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) center — and from a a tabloid journalist who claimed to see Disney’s body in a cryogenic cylinder.
In the decades since, whispers about Disney’s frozen body have only grown louder. But is there any truth to them? Here’s everything you need to know about the Walt Disney’s frozen body conspiracy theory.
The Death Of Walt Disney
By the time Walt Disney died in 1966, he’d become a cultural giant across the world. During his 43 year career in Hollywood, Disney had revolutionized animated films, introduced the world to Mickey Mouse, founded Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and won countless awards and accolades.
But by the age of 65, Disney had started getting very sick.
As PBS reports, Disney had long suffered from chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. He also had a perpetual cough thanks to his smoking habit, as well as a painful polo injury from the 1930s.
In November 1966, doctors uncovered a large tumor in Disney’s left lung after he complained of severe neck pain and shortness of breath. Disney went in for surgery on Nov. 6, during which doctors discovered that his lung cancer had started to spread. Though he was treated with chemotherapy and cobalt X-ray, nothing much could be done.
During this time, the public didn’t know just how sick Walt Disney had become. Snopes reports that his initially hospital visit was explained away as “treatment of an old neck injury received while playing polo.” When Disney returned to the hospital, it declared “a routine post-operative” check-up.
In truth, Walt Disney was getting sicker and sicker. Even as he oversaw the construction of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) Disney’s own tomorrows were numbered. And on Dec 15, 1966, Walt Disney died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, California.
Or, did he?
Weeks after Disney died, a strange rumor began to circulate that Walt Disney’s body had been frozen in hopes of one day reviving him.
Why Rumors Of Walt Disney’s Frozen Body Spread
Rumors of Walt Disney’s frozen body first emerged in early 1967, shortly after Disney died. Then, PBS reports that a reporter for The National Spotlite tabloid claimed that they snuck into St. Joseph’s Hospital after Disney’s death and saw Disney’s body in a cryogenic cylinder.
Two years later, in 1969, the French magazine Ici Paris and the U.S. paper The National Tattler made predictions that Disney would be thawed and reanimated as soon as 1975. Other claims surfaced that Disney’s body was stored in a freezer beneath the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland.
For some, these rumors were perfectly plausible given Disney’s purported fascination with science fiction and the future. The original concept for EPCOT, for example, was effectively Walt Disney’s vision for a utopian society. (It was Disney’s brother Roy who was responsible for what EPCOT ultimately became: a miniature world’s fair of sorts.)
“I don’t believe there is a challenge anywhere in the world that is more important to people everywhere than finding the solution to the problems of our cities,” Disney said of EPCOT, according to the Walt Disney Archives.
He added: “But where do we begin? Well, we’re convinced we must start with the public need. And the need is not just for curing the old ills of old cities. We think the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a community that will become a prototype for the future.”
Near the end of his life, Disney also addressed his department heads in a final filmed statement, expressing his desires for the future of the company — and saying that he hoped to see them soon.
As Snopes acknowledges, it is indeed possible that Walt Disney had caught wind of several articles and books on hypothermia and the preservation of animal tissue, as they had been appearing in scientific and medical texts throughout the late ’50s and early ’60s.
In 1964, Robert C.W. Ettinger published the book, The Prospect of Immortality, which discussed the ethical, legal, and practical implications of cryogenic freezing. Ettinger was wholly optimistic about the future implementation of cryogenic freezing for humanity.
“If civilization endures, medical science should eventually be able to repair almost any damage to the human body, including freezing damage and senile debility or other cause of death,” Ettinger argued in his book. “No matter what kills us, whether old age or disease, and even if freezing techniques are still crude when we die, sooner or later our friends of the future should be equal to the task of reviving and curing us.”
Some theories suggested Disney may have read this book and used his mass fortune to freeze himself in hopes of one day being revived.
So was Walt Disney’s body frozen?
Was Walt Disney’s Body Frozen?
As Snopes asserts, claims that Walt Disney’s body was frozen are false. There is no evidence to suggest that Disney was aware of or interested in cryonics, and speculation about his body occured posthumously.
In fact, much of the speculation comes from two largely debunked biographies of Disney: the 1986 biography written by Leonard Mosley, Disney’s World, and the 1993 biography by Marc Eliot, Walt Disney — Hollywood’s Dark Prince. Both suggest that Disney had been fascinated with preserving or extending his life.
But both books were also heavily scrutinized for containing numerous factual errors, undocumented assertions, and interviews with alleged ex-Disney employees who could never verifiably be tied to the company.
Other assertions about this strange rumor can also be easily disproved. Some claim that news of Disney’s death was delayed in order to prepare cryogenic chamber, but it simply took time to notify his family before the public. Others point to the fact that Disney didn’t have a funeral, but Disney had never wanted one. A decade before he died, he allegedly said: “When I’m dead I don’t want a funeral. I want people to remember me alive.'”
Indeed, Disney’s death certificate shows he was cremated two days after his death, and that the Disney estate paid $40,000 to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, where Disney’s plot can be found to this day.
As fascinating as this conspiracy theory may be, it’s nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Sure, it would be hard to argue with a staunch believer — one who might say, “Of course they’d say that. They don’t want us to know!” — but without any strong, indisputable evidence, it’s difficult to argue that Walt Disney really did freeze his body.
Sometimes, the simplest answer is the most straightforward one.
After reading about this strange conspiracy theory, read about another famous conspiracy theory that says Paul McCartney has been dead for decades. Or, investigate some of the most prominent conspiracy theories about the Denver Airport.