Kurt Russell was on the set of Universal Studios filming a western TV show the day Walt Disney died. A contract actor under a 10-year agreement with Disney Studios, the 15-year-old had been loaned out that day, December 15, 1966.
"I was shooting a close-up and noticed there was some hubbub going on off camera," Russell told authors Amy Boothe Green and Howard E. Green for the 1999 biography Remembering Walt. "Then everybody went quiet. They were looking at me and I thought, 'What the hell's this?'"
"This guy came over to me and said, 'I'm sorry to tell you this, Kurt, but Walt Disney died,'" Russell recalled. "They were all very sweet."
Russel (left) in 1969 in A Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
In the five decades since Walt Disney's death from lung cancer, a periodically reoccurring urban legend persists: that the animation mogul's last dying words were "Kurt Russell."
Russell joined the Disney family in 1966 after starring in the Disney film Follow Me, Boys! as a rebellious young man whose life turns around when he joins the Boy Scouts. Legend has it that Walt was so impressed with Russell's performance he personally saw to it that the studios offered Russell a contract. In Walt Disney's last filmed appearance (at approximately the 5:16 mark), in October 1966, he told viewers he predicted "a great acting future" for Russell. The fresh-faced young man would go on to helm such Disney films as The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, The Barefoot Executive, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.
Ever the futurist, Walt Disney was knee deep in projects when he died at age 65. He had only begun developing Disney World in Orlando the previous year and was in constant talks with studio execs about upcoming films. One of the last things Walt wrote before being
Ron Miller —
2 Way Down Cellar
2. Kirt [sic] Russell
3. CIA — Mobley
Former Disney archivist Dave Smith found the note on Walt Disney's desk in 1970 after he was tasked with documenting everything in the filmmaker's office, which had been left virtually untouched since his death. The room was then re-created, based on Smith's work, in precise detail for a Disneyland attraction. It was moved to Disney World in 2001 as part of the park's "100 Years of Magic" celebration, according to Korkis.
In a 2009 taped tour of the office, given by Smith, he explains the meaning behind the animator's handwritten memo at approximately 2:18:
Russel (second from left) at the Spotlighters Teen Awards in 1966, with Bob Denver (third from right)
On a special Disneyland episode of The View that aired Nov. 22, 2013, Russell confirmed that a Disney employee had shown him the note in hopes of deciphering its meaning.
"I assume, as [does] everybody else, that he was talking about some movie that he was thinking about having me in… I don't know what to make of it other than that," Russell told Barbara Walters.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.