Friday 15 December 2006


I am recalling an event that happened forty years ago today...

I am getting ready for school and, suddenly, there is my father calling up the stairs: "Brian, Walt Disney has died..."

Downstairs I heard the murmuring drone of radio voices as my father - busy brewing early-morning tea - listens, as he does every morning, to the news programme, Today.

I ought, perhaps, to have dashed downstairs to listen to the reports, absorb the details, gather up the tributes. After all, Walt Disney was my hero. A strange idol for a teenage lad, maybe - but that is what he was.

I collected every book, magazine and trivial snippet that I could find about Disney and his studio. I was forever copying pictures of Disney characters in my sketch-books - in fact my youthful ambition was to be a Disney artist, to animate those fabulous beings that appeared in his films. I longed to be a part of that mystical process that created characters out of ink and paint and then imbue them with a power to move people to laughter or tears. I was, I admit, obsessed by the man and his movies.

Later that morning, on my way to school, I would buy the daily newspapers and - in a corner of the playground at morning break - pore over the obituaries; but, at the moment of first hearing the news, I had only one response: I sat on the edge of my bed and wept.

For the first time in my young life I experienced that bizarre phenomenon: a feeling of overwhelming grief at the death of someone whom I did not really know. Not only had I never met Walt Disney, I had - rather surprisingly - never even written him a fan-letter. Yet, I felt - as doubtless many others have felt on hearing of the death of some public figure, president or pop-star - that I had lost a friend, been bereaved of someone who held a unique place in my affections. The loss felt achingly huge; a void had yawned open in my life that I doubted could ever be filled...

In the forty years since that day, I have continued to study - and occasionally write about - Disney's life and work. I have also had the privilege of meeting many of those who knew, worked with, loved and loathed the man. Such encounters have brought me very close to feeling that I understand the personality and character of Walter Elias Disney.

But I have never been - never shall be - as close to him as I was on that morning when my father called upstairs to tell me the news that Walt Disney had died...

1 comment:

Scrooge said...

If you want to live, you have to love, you have to feel the excitment at sharing the sentiments and dreams of great men.Of course, for every high there are massive lows like this moment which you feel more for investing your emotions. Still, like the young Ray Bradbury selling newspapers on a street corner to raise ticket money for Fantasia,in having that drive and inspiration, you get the most out of everything. "I've lived that way for ever" said Ray in one of your interviews "Its the only way to live"