2019 was full of tremendous highs for the Walt Disney Company. But like any year, it also came with some somber lows over the loss of some legendary contributors. Disney will be forever improved by their contributions, each of them touching our hearts and lives in different ways. In addition to people who made a lasting impact on the Disney company, we have also included two Laughing Place team members lost in 2019. With deepest condolences to the family, friends, and fans of the following individuals, we celebrate their memory and legacy.
Speaking for Minnie Mouse since 1986, Russi Taylor was a legendary voice actress with nearly 200 film and television credits to her name. In a fairytale twist that could only happen at Disney, Russi’s partner on and off screen was Wayne Allwine, the voice of Mickey Mouse from 1977 to 2009. Whether you experienced Minnie Mouse on screen or in a show at Disney Parks, Russi Taylor’s effervescent light directly connected with you.
In addition to Minnie Mouse, Russi also spoke for Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie, as well as their friend Webby in the original Disney Afternoon series Ducktales. Fans of The Simpsons will also remember her as the voice of Martin Prince and twins Sherri and Terri in the long-running series. Her voice can also be heard in The Rescuers Down Under, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, TaleSpin, The Little Mermaid: The Animated Series, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Kim Possible, Sofia the First, The Lion Guard, and Tangled: The Series.
Bill Farmer, Voice of Goofy and Pluto: “Russi was as close as family; as wonderful, funny, and sweet as Minnie Mouse, and as talented yet humble as you would expect. I will deeply and dearly miss her.”
Comedy icon Tim Conway was best known to the general public for his Emmy winning performance on the sketch comedy program The Carol Burnett Show. Named a Disney Legend in 2004, Tim Conway headlined several Disney comedies in the 1970’s including The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The World’s Greatest Athlete, Gus, The Shaggy D.A, Air Bud: Golden Receiver, and the voice of Sniffer in the Air Buddies series.
Carol Burnett: “He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”
Founder of the Walt Disney Archives, Dave Smith was a gateway into Disney History for generations of fans. Author of Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia, Dave was a wealth of knowledge who could find the answer to just about any question. His “Ask Dave” article series began in the 1980’s as a feature of The Disney Magazine and continued through D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, through which Dave continued to write about Disney history. He was a friend to Laughing Place and all Disney fan sites, speaking at many fan events over the years.
Dave Smith was hired personally by Roy E. Disney in 1970. The company had never had an archivist and his first task was the archive the office of Walt Disney, which hadn’t been touched since his passing. Walt’s office was recently restored, a task that would’ve been impossible without Dave’s incredible level of care with his archiving. The Walt Disney Archives is now a team of twenty-four, but it all started with one man, Dave Smith.
Leonard Maltin, film critic and historian: “Dave Smith was the ultimate Disney historian who invented his own position at the studio as archivist. He was enthusiastic about his work and generous with his vast knowledge. I always knew I could call on him and he never let me down. What a loss.”
Ron W. Miller
Walt Disney’s son-in-law Ron Miller was a college football star turned pro who quit the NFL at Walt’s request after a head injury. Soon after, he began his Disney career as a film producer, eventually rising to the ranks of CEO from 1978 through 1984. Under his leadership, the company created Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland, Touchstone Pictures, and The Disney Channel. After leaving Disney, Ron started Silverado Vineyards with his wife Diane Disney Miller and he served on the Board of Directors for The Walt Disney Family Museum.
Michael Eisner: “Ron Miller, former president of Disney, husband of Diane Disney, and serious good guy has passed away. For my entire career, I have had great respect and fondness for Ron.”
Peter Mayhew may not have been a household name, but to Star Wars fans he was a legend. The actor originated the role of Chewbacca in 1977 and stayed with the character through the most recent trilogy, mentoring his replacement Joonas Suotamo. He was a staple at Disney’s Star Wars Weekends events and a frequent guest at Star Wars Celebration, the official Star Wars convention.
Mark Hamill: “He was the gentlest of giants – A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile and a loyal friend who I loved dearly. I'm grateful for the memories we shared and I'm a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete.”
Cameron Boyce was a staple of Disney’s cable networks, making his Disney Channel debut at the age of 11. He was a series regular on the hit comedy Jessie and made the leap to Disney XD in Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything. His talent even extended to Disney Junior as the voice of Jake in the second and third seasons of Jake and the Never Land Pirates. But the role that cemented Cameron in the hearts of Disney Channel was Carlos, son of Cruella DeVil, in the Descendants musical series directed by Kenny Ortega.
Kenny Ortega: “His all-too-brief appearance in this life inspired me beyond words and many of us here and generations of kids and families all over the world. His extraordinary talent and loving heart will be remembered through his foundation, The Cameron Boyce Foundation, and has been set up by his family to remember Cameron by continuing his pursuit to make positive change in the world.”
One of the original Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club, Karen Pendleton instantly won over kids and parents with her charm. She was one of the youngest cast members on the series and one of only nine who stayed with the show from its first episode to its last. She hung up her mouse ears in 1959 and left show business, finishing her education and starting a family. A car accident in 1983 left her paralyzed from the waist down and she used the experience to become an advocate for people with disabilities. Karen continued to give back to her fans with appearances at multiple Mickey Mouse Club fan events throughout the years.
Staci Bletscher, Karen’s daughter: “My mom loved her Mouseketeer family. Getting together with her co-stars was always a highpoint. It gave her the opportunity to relive great memories and to meet so many fans that watched the show as kids and loved her.”
Another original Mouseketeer was Dennis Day, who auditioned with his sister and impressed the producers when he corrected the piano accompanist’s tempo for the audition. He remained with the show through its second season and remained in the entertainment business for years after, becoming an actor and director in California’s Renaissance Pleasure Fair and the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, where he met his husband Ernie Caswell. The two moved to Oregon where they had their own business making jellies, jams, and chutneys.
Kalyn Wolf, Friend and Student: “He encouraged me and challenged me and loved me. He taught me great lessons with a lilt. A lot of who I am is because of Dennis Day.”
ABC New Journalist and Anchor Cokie Roberts was a trailblazer in her medium, one of the first women to work as a journalist at NPR in 1978. She joined the ABC News team in 1988 as a Political Correspondent. She was also an accomplished author, having published six books about the roles women have played in history. Her hard work was awarded with three Emmys, the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, and being named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008.
Bob Iger: “CokieRoberts was a colleague and a friend, and our prayers are with her family today. Cokie was a legend and a pioneer for women in journalism and one of the outstanding political commentators of her generation.”
Animator Milton Quon began working at Disney in 1939 on Fantasia and Dumbo as an Assistant Animator and Visual Effects Artist. He studied at Chouinard Art Institute at a time when Disney was having instructors from the program lead evening classes for animators at the studio. During World War II, he left Disney to illustrate for Douglas Aircraft Company and returned to Disney after the war as the head of the publicity department until he left the company in 1951 to continue his career in advertising. In recent years, his artwork was celebrated by several museums around California. He was one of the last living animators from Disney’s golden era.
Mike Quon, Milton’s son: “He was drawing right up until his last days.”
Animator Richard Williams started his Disney career in the early 1950’s fresh out of school, but didn’t stay long. He and a friend moved to England to start their own animation studio, primarily working in advertising and television animation. In between work on his own projects, he returned to Disney as a Directing Animator on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, helping to shape the look of Roger and Jessica Rabbit. He was given a Special Achievement Oscar for his work on the film.
John Canemaker, Animation Historian: “Dick shared with the world his profound love and knowledge of hand-drawn animation and his admiration for those who influenced him (Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Art Babbitt, Ken Harris et al). He did so through the example of his films — ALL of them — and by his teachings in the great "Survival Kit" book and videos that he and his wife, Imogen Sutton, produced, which deeply influenced modern animation.”
Rip Torn is perhaps best remembered on-screen for his role as Zed, the head of MIB in Sony’s Men in Black series. With a deep regal voice, he was perfectly cast as the voice of Zeus in Disney’s 1997 animated feature Hercules. In 1999, he also co-starred with Mara Wilson in ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney original movie, Balloon Farm. For Fox, Rip Torn delivered the iconic line “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” in the hit comedy Dodgeball.
Mara Wilson, co-star of Disney’s Balloon Farm: “I was lucky enough to work with Rip Torn when I was ten. I had no idea how much he had done, just that he was a nice and interesting guy. What a life.”
Academy Award-nominated actor Robert Forster is best known to Disney fans as the star of The Black Hole, the 1979 cult classic sci-fi film. He was involved in a variety of Fox projects, including playing Tim Allen’s dad on the Fox produced television series Last Man Standing, which started its run on ABC. Other Fox projects include The Descendants, Me Myself and Irene, Like Mike, and a guest starring role on The Simpsons in an episode called “Sex, Pies, and Idiot Scrapes.”
Tim Allen: “So very sad at Roberts passing, he was a gift to me personally and an emotional part of our show. Prayers and condolences to his beautiful wife and family.”
Grammy Winner Dr. John lent his musical talents to several Disney films, most memorably as the singer of “Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog. Other Disney tracks include “Cruella De Vil” for the live-action 101 Dalmatians, “The Bare Necessities” for the live-action The Jungle Book, "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" in The Mighty Ducks and "Let's Make a Better World" in Holes.
Harry Shearer, Actor/Musician: “New Orleans just lost a giant. Second one, after the recent passing of Leah Chase. RIP Mac Rebennack, AKA Dr. John. For a great read, check out his autobiography some time. And listen to his music any time.”
“La la nouvelle cuisine. Les Champs-Élysées, Maurice Chevalier.” That memorable intro to the song “Les Poissons” from The Little Mermaid was sung as only René Auberjonois could deliver it. A character actor of stage and screen, René Auberjonois won a Tony for his work on Broadway and held memorable roles in film and TV, including Disney’s The Christmas Star and the Wonderful World of Disney original musical Geppetto. But to generations of kids, his take as Chef Louis will be forever remembered. He lent his voice to several other Disney projects, including Planes: Fire & Rescue, The Replacements, The Legend of Tarzan, Aladdin: The Animated Series, Ducktales, and the uncredited voice of Philippe Renaldi, Mia’s father in The Princess Diaries.
Golden Globe winning actress Katherine Helmond was a staple of ABC sitcoms in the 1980’s with memorable roles on Soap and Who’s the Boss? But to a generation of kids, she is best known as Lizzie the Ford Model T. in Pixar’s Cars trilogy and short films.
Judith Light, Who’s the Boss Co-Star: “Katherine Helmond was a remarkable human being and an extraordinary artist; generous, gracious, charming and profoundly funny. She taught me so much about life and inspired me indelibly by watching her work. Katherine was a gift to our business and to the world, and will be deeply missed.”
Guitarist Dick Dale provided the iconic guitar on the recording of “Aquarium” produced for Disneyland’s Space Mountain from 1995 through 2005 when it was replaced with the current Michal Giacchino score. Dale was known as the “King of the surf guitar” and was a staple of The Lawrence Welk Show.
Mary Lou Metzger, Singer on The Lawrence Welk Show: "Everybody just loved him. He was a great story teller on stage and off, and he was a musician's musician."
Marc Spignese was an integral part of Laughingplace.com's global coverage in its earliest days sharing his Tokyo & Paris adventures. He was also a frequent participant in the discussion boards.
Jamie Barrett Marsh was a frequent participant in the LaughingPlace.com discussion boards before marrying longtime Laughingplace.com staffer Doug Marsh. Together they not only shared their love of Disney through their site contributions but hosted Disney fan events and socials.