Walt Disney was the creative mastermind behind the concepts that changed the themed entertainment industry forever. From logistical features like the hub and spoke design that was first used at Disneyland to the core belief that a Disney Park could be a place where the young, and the young at heart, could have fun together, Walt’s original ideas continue on in theme parks around the world.
On December 15, 1966, Walt sadly passed away, leaving behind family and friends, along with an entire company and the general public mourning the tragic loss. While Disney World was in the works by the time of Walt’s death, construction on the property did not begin until the following year, and Walt, of course, would never be able to see the finished Park and Resorts.
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Despite passing before he had the opportunity to see Disney World come to fruition, Walt continued to maintain a presence in Disneyland even while in the midst of other major projects for as long as his health allowed him to do so.
As such, Disney historians have been able to confirm when Walt’s final visit to Disneyland took place, and which photo of Walt was the last one taken of him at one of his favorite places.
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Walt’s last Disneyland photos were taken by Chief Disneyland Photographer Renie Bardeau, who spent more than 40 years behind the camera capturing some of the most important moments at Disney’s original Park before retiring in 1998 (and sadly passing away just last year in 2021).
Some of Bardeau’s other most well-known photos from Disneyland include Walt Disney during a renovation of The Jungle Cruise, and the dedication of the 1959 Tomorrowland Expansion accompanied by President Nixon and his family.
The last photos of Walt in Disneyland were taken by Bardeau in the fall of 1966 during a photo shoot with Mickey Mouse by Sleeping Beauty Castle. During the shoot, Walt posed with the Disneyland Fire Department’s “Engine No. 1” to take a series of black and white and color photos so they would work for both magazines and newspapers.
Bardeau spoke with the Los Angeles Times shortly before his retirement where he shared his experience of taking Walt’s last Disneyland photos:
There is a little story of when I was shooting that particular picture. It was shot on a Rolleiflex, and there are 12 pictures on a roll. I had shot 11 pictures of Walt at different angles… watching for his smile, watching to make sure Mickey was looking the right way, making sure the (castle) spires weren’t hanging out of Mickey’s ears. Anyway, I had shot 11 pictures, and I had said, ‘Thank you, Walt, that’s it.’ He asked me if I was sure, and I told him I was. He then told me that at the Studio we treat film like paper clips. You shoot, shoot, shoot all the film you need because if it’s not in the can, you will never have it. So he asked me to shoot one more. So, I shot one more and he said, ‘That’s fine, thank you, Renie,’ and he walked away.
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While this set of photos of Walt with Mickey in Disneyland have become incredibly iconic, many people do not realize it was one of the last days he spent at the Park.
The image (above, right) is a mosaic inspired by Walt’s last Disneyland photo that hangs in the Team Disney building for Cast Members to admire at the Disneyland Resort. The mosaic collage was created using photos taken throughout the Disneyland Resort during the 2005 50th-anniversary celebration.