In 1966, while the Pirates attraction was finalizing the
conceptualization and well into the process of development
and construction, Walt's health started to deteriorate after
years of smoking Lucky Strikes. Some of Walt's closest friends,
family and co-workers knew that the problem was quite serious,
though when Walt visited the hospital to have a lung removed,
the Disney Company issued reports about his receiving treatment
for an old "polo injury." Walt was quite worried
about the effect that his death might have on the value
of his company for the shareholders.
KFWB AM radio
in Hollywood announces Walt Disney's death in a special
bulletin on December 15, 1966.
However, he needn't have worried. His brother Roy continued
his legacy and started working right away with WED on the
current projects (such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the
Florida resort.) Upon Walt's passing on December 15, 1966,
newspapers, radio, television, and world leaders around
the globe all mourned his loss and praised his legacy.
The website-based Walt
Disney Family Museum has a fantastic multimedia history
of Walt's life, and it describes the events that led to
his untimely death:
"In late 1966, Walt was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Years of smoking had caught up with him. Walt told his
family that they shouldn't be concerned, that he'd have
the cancer removed and quickly recover. But on Monday,
November 7, the surgeon told Lilly, Diane, and Sharon
that the cancer had spread and that Walt had between six
months and two years to live. There were a few more visits
to the studio... and to WED. But Walt spent most of the
next few weeks with his family, making plans for the future:
"I'm going to concentrate on the parks and building
EPCOT," he told son-in-law Ron. On November 30, he
went back to the hospital. And on December 15, he died.
The flag at Disneyland flew at half mast. And as commentator
Eric Severeid said, "We'll never see his like again."
WED continued to work hard at getting the characters
constructed and installed in the new attraction. The
team of engineers responsible for developing and perfecting
the technology (which included Roger Broggie, Wathel
Rogers, Fred Joerger and others) were continuing their
work despite the pain and loss felt throughout the
company at the loss of its leader.
As Marc Davis recalled: "[Walt] seemed to be satisfied
with the way everything was coming together... and then
shortly after that he was gone. That was an awfully rough
Show Design and Atmosphere
There was a lot more than animation and ride systems involved
with the creation of POTC. In order to create the "Disney
magic," WED continued to lead the theme park industry
in creating fully immersive entertainment experiences, and
POTC was to be the crown jewel of such efforts to date.
Claude Coats, one of Walt's most trusted creative men, was
the Senior Show Designer for the attraction, and he worked
hard with some of WED's amazing effects and atmosphere designers,
such as Yale Gracey, Bill Martin, and Don Edgren. "X"
Atencio, meanwhile, was had at work creating the script,
song, and storyline for the ride, and he proceeded to record
some of the more notable pirate voices with Disney's reliable
voice talents Thurl Ravenscroft and Paul Frees, both of
whom can be heard on many other famous Disney attractions,
such as the Haunted
X Atencio and George
Burns worked together to create the famous "Yo
Ho" tune that plays throughout the attraction.
Listen to this early demo version of the song, which
differs signifcantly from the final version.
cloudy skies to misty grottos, the atmosphere and special
effects in the Pirates attraction are an integral part of
the fantastic "reality" that the show imparts.
One of the most dramatic effects created was the burning
town at the ride's climax. Yale Gracey developed the method
by which the imitated flames were created (which involves
a clever use of fans and lighting, as seen below), and the
effect was almost too real for some. Arrow Development's
Karl Bacon recalls walking through the set with Anaheim's
Fire Department Chief:
"I remember the head of the fire
department coming through the lower doors way down there,
and he looked up there and saw it and said "You can't
have fire in here!" As he got closer he saw that
it was done with colored plastic. He was going to shut
ride installation continued as planned. The Pirates of the
Caribbean would prove unofficially to be WED's tribute to
Walt Disney's leadership and vision. The attraction opened
April 19, 1967 and has spawned replicas at Walt Disney World,
in Disneyland Tokyo, and at Disneyland Paris. It is probably
the most popular Disney attraction ever, according to many
What is amazing, though, is that in spite of the differences
in technology and audience expectations, POTC remains Disney's
most cherished attraction, more than 30 years after it was
first unveiled. In the POTC souvenir guide Disneyland published
in the '70s, the magic of bringing these characters to life
was described succinctly:
"The simple eye-blink of a pirate is a result
of many years of research and development by everyone
at WED. The basic approach taken by the Imagineers is
best described in this sentence from one of its designers:
"We work as a team with Walt; tossing out ideas,
working with them, building on them, and finally coming
up with a product that we are all proud to say is 'Disney'
all the way." This is the WED way, which might just
mean that Imagineers tell many tales."