2021 was full of a lot of exciting times for The Walt Disney Company. For the first time in more than a year, all of Disney’s theme parks are open at the same time, Marvel’s newest film, Spider-Man: No Way Home has earned more than one billion dollars at the box office, and Disney+ is seeing new subscribers every day. However, there were also sad times for Disney and its fans around the world.
Here are some of the Disney stars and legends that we lost in 2021.
Boy did this one hurt. Legendary actress Betty White — known for shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls — passed away on New Year’s Eve at the age of 99, just about two weeks shy of her 100th birthday. During her long and illustrious career, White worked several times with The Walt Disney Company — including voicing Mrs. Claus in the 2010 ABC short film Operation: Secret Santa. She also voiced herself in Toy Story 4 and voiced the old woman in the “New York Weenie” episode of the Disney Channel show Mickey Mouse.
Sayaka Kanda passed away on December 18. While she may not be well-known to many American Disney fans, she was well-known in Japan and voiced Princess Anna in the Japanese-dubbed version of Frozen. Kanda was found unconscious while staying at a hotel and her death is currently being considered a suicide, but police have not ruled out foul play as they continue to investigate.
Art LaFleur — best known for his role as The Tooth Fairy AKA ‘The Molinator’ passed away on November 17. LaFleur had been battling Parkinson’s for 10 years before his death. LaFleur debuted as the tooth fairy in The Santa Claus 2 and then reprised the role in The Santa Claus 3: The Escape Claus. During his long Hollywood career, LaFleur also starred in cult-classic films like Field of Dreams and The Sandlot.
Odds are that if you don’t know Will Ryan’s face, then you know his voice. The iconic Disney voice actor passed away on November 19 after a short battle with cancer. Ryan worked with Disney for years on a number of projects and was most well-known for voicing Rabbit in many Winnie the Pooh films and shows, as well as voicing Willie the Giant in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Ryan would continue to voice Willie for years, even up until right before his death when he voiced the giant for the show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
Ed Asner lived a long and wonderful life and passed away in August at the age of 91. While he was known to many as the gruff newsroom boss in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but to Disney fans, he was known as the voice of Carl Fredricksen in 2009’s UP. Before his death, Asner had filmed his cameo for the fun Disney Halloween movie Muppets Haunted Mansion, which premiered on Disney+ on October 8.
Peter Scolari was only 66 years old when he died, passing away after a two-year battle with cancer. Over the years, Scolari had done a number of projects for Walt Disney Studios. He most famously took over the role of Wayne Szalinksi from Rick Moranis in the television series Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show. Scolari also voiced the character, Preston Vogel, in the popular Disney Channel series Gargoyles.
Will Ryan and Peter Scolari were not the only Disney stars that we lost to cancer this year. Charles Grodin, star in The Great Muppet Caper” died in May at the age of 86 after also battling the disease. Grodin not only stared in The Great Muppet Caper but was also known to Disney fans as the left brain in the EPCOT attraction Cranium Command, which ran from 1989 until 2007.
Tommy Kirk, star of Disney’s 1957 film Old Yeller passed away in September at the age of 79. Kirk had worked for Disney a number of times as a child, and we even handpicked by Walt Disney himself to star in other films like The Shaggy Dog (1959), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), and Babes In Toyland (1961). Kirk was good friends with another Disney star, Annette Funicello, and she starred in both The Shaggy Dog and Babes In Toyland alongside Kirk.
Samuel E. Wright
There are fewer animated films that Disney fans have come to love more than 1989’s The Little Mermaid and one of the most beloved characters was Sebastian the crab, who tried to be tough, but really was just a big soft shell. Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian was voiced by Samuel E. Wright, who died in May at the age of 74. Wright also voiced Kron in the Disney movie Dinosaur and Mufasa in The Lion King on Broadway.
Mark Elliot is another actor who you may not recognize right away, but boy will you know what he sounds like if you were a Disney fan in the 90s. Elliott began his career with The Walt Disney Company in 1983 and was the voice behind numerous movie trailers, feature presentation bumpers, as well as Disney commercials, including A Goofy Movie and Toy Story.
Charles Boyer was not a Disney actor, but he was a Disney Legend — meaning his name has a prominent place in the Disney Hall of Fame. Boyer began his career with The Walt Disney Company in 1960 and continued to work with them for nearly 40 years — becoming the Company’s first full-time artist. Boyer continued to work his way up, eventually becoming a Master Illustrator at the company.
Christopher Plummer was one of the most well-known and well-respected actors in Hollywood. He was most famous for his role as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 film The Sound of Music — in which he starred alongside Disney legend Julie Andrews. However, Plummer came to the Disney/Pixar family in the early 2000s when he worked with Ed Asner on the film UP, where he voiced villain Charles Muntz.
Another Disney Legend, Ruthie Tompson, also passed away this year at the incredible age of 111. During her 40 years with the Walt Disney Company, Ruthie worked on almost every Disney animated movie there was, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), and countless others. Ruthie began her career with Disney when she was only 18 years old, when she was offered a job in the Ink and Paint Department.
Dale Baer was another longtime Disney Animator who worked with the House of Mouse for more than 30 years. Dale passed away in January at the age of 70 after suffering from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. During his time as an animator with Disney, Baer worked on a number of prominent Disney films, including Robin Hood (1973), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Frozen (2013), and Moana (2016).