Walt Disney – What happened to the Disney family and their money?
Walt Disney Family Museum showcases Pinocchio
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Monday, December 5 marks 121 years since one of the most influential figures in film and culture was born. Walt Disney went from amateur cartoonist to the creator of one of showbiz’s most iconic brands. The Walt Disney Company was founded in 1923 by its namesake and his brother, Roy O. Disney. Five years later, Mickey Mouse made his debut in a media production.
In 1937, Disney’s first feature-length film – Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – made millions of dollars at the Box Office.
Hollywood hits were not the end of the Disneys’ ambitions. Walt opened Disneyland in 1953, and also won plaudits for Mary Poppins the same year. The film received 12 Academy Award nominations.
The Walt Disney company is now worth hundreds of billions of dollars according to reports. In 2020, GOBankingRates’ Sean Dennison valued it at $130billion (£106billion). However, this was before the launch of Disney+, a streaming service that saw the company’s value skyrocket.
Statista reported this week that the Walt Disney Company now holds assets worth $203billion (£166billion).
Founder Walt always tried to maintain a degree of normality while his business continued to surge in value and notoriety. His adopted daughter, Sharon, once explained how he did this.
As quoted by Business Insider, she said: “We weren’t raised with the idea that this is a great man who is doing things that no one else had ever done. He was Daddy. He was a man who went to work every morning and came home every night.”
When Walt died from lung cancer in 1966, he left behind a huge fortune for his two daughters Sharon and Diane, as well as his many grandchildren.
Walt and his wife, Lillian, lived in an $8.5million (£6.9million) home in Los Angeles. The home’s value soared to over £70million after renovations made by another owner.
Walt’s oldest daughter, Diane, and her seven children all reportedly inherited large sums from the Hollywood icon. One of her daughters, Tamara, told People that her family “lived a very simple, traditional family life.”
Sharon also tried to live as normal a life as possible with her adopted daughter Victoria, and her twins Brad and Michelle. It has also been reported that Michelle never worked and owns three homes in California.
Victoria is said to have led an even more luxurious lifestyle. Eriq Gardner of the Hollywood Reporter once wrote of Sharon’s adopted daughter: “She once went on a Disney cruise ship and destroyed her suite in such spectacular fashion that Eisner, then-CEO of the company, had to call the trustees and make them pay for the damages. The family staged numerous interventions, to no avail.”
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The twins, Brad and Michelle, became embroiled in a dispute over a trust fund worth more than £300million. Journalist Mr Gardner reported that the inheritance was supposed to be sent to the twins in five-year intervals. But while Michelle got hers, Brad did not receive his.
The trustees and Brad’s sister argued he could not receive the money because of a “chronic cognitive disability”. They also believed the twins’ father, Bill, was trying to take advantage of his son to gain access to the inheritance.
Walt’s brother, Roy.O, had four children. His son, Roy E, announced plans to sell his £6million’s worth of Disney shares, but later died of stomach cancer in 2009. Another of Roy O’s children, Abigail, admitted in 2019 she had reservations about the huge wealth her family had inherited.
She said: “We went from being comfortable, upper-middle-class people to suddenly my dad had a private jet. That’s when I feel that my dad really lost his way in life.
“And that’s why I feel hyperconscious about what wealth does to people. I lived in one family as a child, and then I didn’t even recognize the family as I got older.”
Business Insider reported in 2020 that the Disney family as a whole now owns less than three percent of the company.
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