A Heated History of People Claiming That Walt Disney Had His Head Frozen After He Died

We would like to put this rumor on ice once and for all
A Heated History of People Claiming That Walt Disney Had His Head Frozen After He Died

Walt Disney sure loved to smoke. So much so that he dropped dead of lung cancer on December 15, 1966. He was quickly cremated, and his ashes were interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. 

However, a great many people believe that Disney’s body was frozen — or just his head was frozen — so that one day he could come back and contribute more Mickey Mouse cartoons and amusement parks to the world. While there’s no truth to any of that, it’s been a persistent urban legend for nearly 60 years.

Just a month and a half before he died, Disney discovered that he had lung cancer. His lung was removed immediately, yet the public didn’t learn of the seriousness of his condition, with many reports saying he was expected to make a full recovery. During this period of time cryonics was also, per the BBC, a “hot topic.” In 1964, the book The Prospect of Immortality was released, which popularized the idea of cryogenics and turned its author, Robert Ettinger, into an overnight celebrity.

Whether or not Disney had heard about cryonics before he died is a matter of debate, but even if he did, there’s no proof that he did anything about it. According to Snopes, “The exact origins of the rumor (of Disney being frozen) are unknown, but at least one Disney publicist has suggested that the story was started by a group of Disney Studio animators who ‘had a bizarre sense of humor.’” 

PBS, however, cited a different source, reporting, “In early 1967, a few weeks after Disney’s death, a reporter for a tabloid newspaper called The National Spotlite claimed he had snuck into St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, directly across the street from the Disney studios and where (Disney) was treated during his final illness. As the story went, the reporter disguised himself as an orderly, broke into a storage room, and saw the deceased Disney suspended in a cryogenic metal cylinder!” 

In fairness — not to The National Spotlite, which was the kind of supermarket tabloid that made a business out of peddling bogus stories, but to us — cryonics looked pretty promising back in the 1960s. In fact, the first man to be cryogenically frozen was a guy named James Bedford, who was frozen less than a month after Disney’s death.

Either way, in 1969, the French magazine Ici Paris repeated the rumor about Disney, as did another American tabloid, The National Tattler. By that time, the rumor had evolved to the point where Disney was supposedly going to return in 1975 and that his frozen remains were stored under the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. Eventually, some versions of the rumor claimed that only Disney’s head had been put on ice.

Adding fuel to the fire, in September 1970, Robert Nelson, the founder of the Cryonic Society of California, explained, “We’ve had hundreds of requests since the first internment. For the most part, relatives wait too long to make arrangements. This is what happened in the case of Walt Disney. He requested cryonic interment, but didn’t make the arrangements and relatives didn’t know how to proceed.” 

But as the BBC has noted, it’s unclear if Nelson was being truthful or “just promoting his business.” Regardless, just a month after Nelson’s claim, “The Father of Cryonics” himself, Robert Ettinger, made mention of the rumor, saying, “Let us assume the truth of the reports, widely circulated in newspapers and on television, that Disney made a death-bed request for cryonic suspension, but instead of freezing him his dearly beloved cremated him.” 

From there, a pair of salacious Disney biographies further peddled the rumor. First there was Disney’s World in 1985, which suggested Disney learned of cryonics from Disney-songwriter-turned-personal-nurse-to-Walt, Hazel George. Although the book didn’t outright say Disney had been frozen, it said he was looking into it and suggested it was a possibility. Next, there was Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince in 1993, which reported that Disney talked to his brother Roy about being frozen. (It offered no evidence, however.)

These days, the rumor is probably most perpetuated by a Family Guy joke from 2005. When Stewie meets his future self, he asks if they ever unfroze Disney. Future Stewie says “yes,” before the scene cuts to a laboratory where a scientist unfreezes Disney. Disney wakes up and asks, “Are the Jews gone yet?” When the scientist says “No,” Disney says, “Put me back in.”

It’s all the more funny today since Disney currently owns Family Guy.

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