Walt Disney's death

The most famous press cover for Walt Disney's death was designed by french magazine Paris Match on December 24, 1966 - issue n°924
(photos by Paris Match)

Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, before his vision was realized. His brother and business partner, Roy O. Disney, postponed his retirement to oversee construction of the resort's first phase.

On February 2, 1967, Roy O. Disney held a press conference at the Park Theatres in Winter Park, Florida. The role of EPCOT was emphasized in the film that was played, the last one recorded by Walt Disney before his death. After the film, it was explained that for Walt Disney World to succeed, a special district would have to be formed: the Reedy Creek Improvement District with two cities inside it, the City of Bay Lake and the City of Reedy Creek (now the City of Lake Buena Vista). In addition to the standard powers of an incorporated city, which include the issuance of tax-free bonds, the district would have immunity from any current or future county or state land-use laws. The only areas where the district had to submit to the county and state would be property taxes and elevator inspections.

The legislation forming the district and the two cities was signed into law on May 12, 1967. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that the district was allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds for public projects within the district despite the sole beneficiary being The Walt Disney Company.

Construction of drainage canals was soon begun by the district, and Disney built the first roads and the Magic Kingdom. Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Polynesian Resort, and Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground were also completed in time for the park's opening on October 1, 1971. The Palm and Magnolia golf courses near the Magic Kingdom had opened a few weeks before.

Roy O. Disney dedicated the property and declared that it would be known as "Walt Disney World" in his brother's honor. In his own words: "Everyone has heard of Ford cars. But have they all heard of Henry Ford, who started it all? Walt Disney World is in memory of the man who started it all, so people will know his name as long as Walt Disney World is here." After the dedication, Roy Disney asked Walt's widow, Lillian, what she thought of Walt Disney World. According to biographer Bob Thomas, she replied, "I think Walt would have approved."

Roy O. Disney died on December 20, 1971, barely three months after the property opened.

Disney subsequently opened EPCOT Center in 1982, a theme park adapted from Walt Disney's vision for a "community of tomorrow". The park permanently adopted the name Epcot in 1996. In 1989, the resort added Disney-MGM Studios, a theme park inspired by show business, whose name was changed to Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2008. The resort's fourth theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom, opened in 1998.