In Memoriam 2021 – Disney Stars We Lost This Year
Each year, we lose a slew of talented people to the other side. Unfortunately, this past year proved particularly heartbreaking for Disney fans as several of our favorites left us.
Here are all the Disney celebrity deaths from 2021.
The world knew Alex Trebek as the host of Jeopardy, the long-running game show. But, to Disney fans, he was Alex Trebek of Ellen’s Energy Adventure.
On that ride, Trebek played, well, the host of Jeopardy. He gave Ellen a hard time about her lack of energy-related trivia knowledge.
Like the ride, he’s no longer with us now, but he lives on in YouTube form.
When you think about Guardians of the Galaxy, you can’t help but hum Hooked on a Feeling, the song used so memorably in it.
BJ Thomas, the singer of that tune, passed away…but not before he left Disney fans with many memories. In fact, here’s one:
Yes, Thomas used to play at the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival!
Australian martial artist Brad Allan worked with Jackie Chan on several productions.
Eventually, Allan earned solo assignments as a stunt coordinator. One of his final projects was Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Attentive viewers will even notice a dedication to him at the end!
In 1960, a young artist desperate for work accepted a temp job at Disney. He quickly earned his stripes and became Disneyland’s first full-time artist.
More than 50 years later, he died a Disney Legend. Two of his works, Walt Disney Triple Self Portrait and Self Portrait: Mickey Mouse, are iconic.
One of the most prolific and respected actors of all time, Plummer found himself in several Disney projects.
Among the most memorable was his voice acting work as the villainous Charles Muntz in Up.
Also, while the movie wasn’t a Disney project at the time, fans will remember him for his work in The Sound of Music. Disney owns that film now.
When The Great Movie Ride opened in 1989, Cicely Tyson was among the performers who etched their hands cement outside the Chinese Theatre.
Disney fans will also remember her work in The Help, but let’s be honest. I’m mentioning her more because she’s Cicely freakin’ Tyson, one of the most influential and accomplished actresses ever.
Similarly, Cloris Leachman worked with Disney on several occasions, most notably in Herbie Goes Bananas. She also appears in The Muppet Movie and Sky High.
More recently, she appeared on Girls Meets World and voiced Hool in Elena of Avalor. For decades, she was a go-to woman for comic relief and a master of her craft.
The Annie Award winner and beloved Disney artist worked on projects like The Rescuers, The Lion King, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Emperor’s New Groove.
If you like Yzma, you have Baer to thank for the character’s distinctive visual flair.
A titan in the illustration industry, Negron worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, and Ghostbusters. That’ll make anybody feel insignificant about their resume.
During the early 1970s, Disney poached Negron from 20th Century Fox. He worked on Escape to Witch Mountain and other movies.
More importantly, he created the conceptual artwork for Space Mountain. Negron also did the three-panel mural on display at The Plaza at Disneyland.
Yes, 2021 proved brutal for the old guys in Up. The men who brought life to their voices passed away within a few months of one another.
Realistically, you know Asner from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Still, his Disney connections trace back to a delightful 1970s movie, Gus. It’s about a field goal-kicking mule. Yes, I’m serious.
Philanthropist Frank Shankwitz never worked for Disney, but his charitable endeavor is forever linked with the company.
Shankwitz founded the Make-A-Wish Foundation, one of the kindest charities in existence. The entire world owes him a debt.
Disney fans have known about this one for a while. George Segal had played the beloved grandfather on The Goldbergs for its entire run.
A recent episode paid tribute to a comedy legend who, by the way, got his start as a banjo player.
This is a fine example of someone whose name you might know. If you heard her voice, it’d trigger so many memories, though.
Withers provided voice work for several projects and characters, such as Laverne in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She also performed on House of Mouse and Mickey Mouse Works.
Fun fact about Jane Withers: A successful child actress, she retired from the industry at age 21…in 1947! (Obviously, she came back.)
This one hurts me, as Walter most recently voiced Mallory Archer, mother of Sterling Archer. As unbelievable as this statement is, Disney owns Archer.
Walter has also voiced Meteora Heinous in Star vs. the Forces of Evil.
Of course, the most memorable role of her 60-year career was as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development.
Walt Disney himself identified Jim Cora as a potential Disney lifer. That instinct proved correct, as Cora would work on the opening of Walt Disney World.
Later, Cora would head the Tokyo Disneyland project. He also oversaw the land purchase for what would become Disneyland Paris.
Disney owes much of its international expansion to Cora’s influence!
Sadly, we’re getting to that point when many of the original members of the Mickey Mouse Club leave us.
Johnny Crawford was only nine when he got the job as a Mouseketeer. He was one of Disney television’s first success stories, albeit not with them.
Crawford left MMC after only one year to get a job on The Rifleman. By age 13, he’d already earned an Emmy nomination!
Look, you know Larry King as one of the finest interviewers and talk show hosts ever.
Once King had established his career, he’d occasionally take side projects wherein he played himself in Disney movies like The Kid.
Later, King appeared as a voice actor in several Disney shows like Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb.
Here’s another one whose name you wouldn’t know as well as his voice.
Mark Elliott became the voice of many Disney trailers over the years. From 1983 through 2008, he was the “And now, our feature presentation…” guy!
Fun fact: Elliott also worked as Casey Kasem’s guest host on American Top 40!
A legend in San Francisco high society, philanthropist Nancy Bechtle famously championed The Walt Disney Museum.
She did so partially because of her lifelong friendship with Diane Disney Miller. The museum even paid tribute to Bechtle in a tweet:
We are saddened by the loss of museum advisory committee member Nancy Bechtle. In addition to being a long-time advocate for the museum, Nancy was also a personal friend of Diane Disney Miller. Nancy will be missed by all at The Walt Disney Family Museum. https://t.co/RMgzof3niw
— The Walt Disney Family Museum (@WDFMuseum) November 7, 2021
Actor Ned Beatty appeared in more than 160 films during his storied career.
Somehow, the actor waited until late in his career for his most memorable performance for Disney fans.
Beatty voiced Lotso the hugging bear in Toy Story 3.
Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis died in May. She only worked with Disney a handful of times throughout her legendary career.
The most memorable of them was in Mr. Holland’s Opus, where she played the school principal.
Actor Peter Scolari died in 2021, which led to this beautiful tribute from his former co-star on Bosom Buddies, Tom Hanks.
For Disney, Scolari played the lead in the TV version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. He also voiced a character on Gargoyles, among other projects.
The career arc of Phil Young is quite fascinating. He worked for the military, where he was stationed in Germany.
While overseas, he worked as a draftsman and illustrator at a training facility. Bitten by the artist bug, Young went back to school.
Later, Young joined Disney at what seemed like the worst possible time. Don Bluth and 11 other animators defected.
Young filled that void, earning a promotion and eventually working on many classic films from the Disney Renaissance.
Ron Dominguez, Mr. Disneyland
Some things in life are simply meant to be. To wit, Ron Dominguez grew up among the orange groves that Walt Disney purchased.
So, he lived at the Happiest Place on Earth before there was such a thing.
In fact, Dominguez’s childhood home was pretty much where the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean is today.
Then, four days before Disneyland opened, Dominguez took a job there, where he realized that Uncle Walt was using his old home as office space.
Since the place felt like home, Dominguez stayed there for his entire career as a theme park worker and, later, executive.
The Disney Legend even earned the nickname of Mr. Disneyland.
Legendary composer Stephen Sondheim after a historic half-century career wherein he wrote some of the most music ever.
Along the way, Sondheim created songs for West Side Story and Into the Woods, both of which eventually became Disney movies.
In 2013, Playbill published a ranking of his top 10 songs. If you skip to number one, you’ll notice that Dame Judi Dench (!) is the singer.
When you talk about Disney child actors, sometimes scenes stand out as much as names.
Do you know the ending of Old Yeller? Yeah, that was Tommy Kirk as Travis Coates.
That was but one of Kirk’s many Disney appearances, including his work as one of the Hardy Boys.
Kirk also starred in Disney classics like The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, and Swiss Family Robinson.
Walt Disney himself once referred to Kirk as his “good-luck piece.” That’s how big a star Kirk was back in the 1950s and 1960s.
This comedian first garnered acclaim as one of the founders of The Whitest Kids U Know, who later starred in their own IFC series.
However, Disney fans will always be grateful to Moore for his contributions to chaos comedy.
Moore created Walk the Prank and Just Roll with It, both of which are popular Disney Channel shows. You can watch them on Disney+ right now.
Thanks to his voice work, this singer and musician has warmed your heart many times.
Ryan portrayed Willie the Giant in Mickey’s Christmas Carol and several other projects.
He also voiced many famous Disney roles such as Barnaby, Tigger, Eeyore, and Dangerous Dan.
Obviously, nothing I can say here will help with any of these losses.
Still, I think it’s essential that we remember and celebrate the joy these performers brought into our lives.
Feature Image: Barry King/Film Magic