In Memoriam

The Cast Members who have died working at Disney

In 1974, eighteen year old Deborah Gail Stone was a new Cast Member at Disneyland. She had recently graduated from the nearby Santa Ana High and was working over the summer as an attractions hostess at "America Sings" to earn money in preparation for her departure to college in the fall. To her friends she is remembered as an outstanding student and athlete, a member of the high school yearbook. To the rest of the world she is remembered as the first Cast Member to die whilst working at Disney.

Despite the Disney 'Fact'* that nobody dies at Disneyland you don't have to be a Cast Member to know that dieing is a part of life and it can happen anywhere. Most Disney fatalities have occurred due to reckless behaviour on the part of Guests, very occasionally, ride malfunctions or rarer still have been ruled as negligence on Disney's part. The rarest deaths of all though have been those of Cast Members whilst at work. The latest and possibly most poignant case being that of Austin Wuennenberg who lost his life on July 5, 2009 in the Monorail crash at Walt Disney World.

World-wide Disney employs thousands of Cast Members in its theme parks division at any one time. I have tried to get an estimate on how many have worked for the Parks and Resorts over the years but there isn't a ready answer. Certainly it must have been into the millions by now, at any one time Disneyland employs 8,000, Disneyland Paris - 14,000 Walt Disney World - 55.000, Tokyo Disneyland - 6,000 and Hong Kong - 3,000. (all these are approximate numbers) and in all of those Cast Members I can only find five of them as having died working for the Mouse since Disneyland opened in 1955.

There have almost certainly been others who have passed on whilst 'backstage' but five deaths are acknowledged as having been 'onstage' and 'on the clock'. Whilst I would be first in line to say even one accidental death under any circumstances is one too many, I do find the figure of five publicly reported deaths a remarkably low number. Before I open the door to the conspiracy theorists too wide, I think a death would have been a very big deal to cover up even before the all knowing internet age. Too big in fact to be really feasible.

There is no clear explanation of what exactly happened to Deborah on July 8, 1974 or why. She had been hosting the main show of "America Sings" and the feeling is that she was in the wrong place during a ride intermission. Deborah's job was to greet each new audience as they settled into the six seating areas which rotated around a stationary hub housing the show. Standing on the stage, she welcomed the to the attraction before the outer ring rotated and carried the audience to the first scene of the show. About 11:00 PM that evening, Stone approached too closely to the area between the rotating theatre wall and the non-moving stage wall and was crushed to death between them. Whilst you can lay this at the door of poor training or perhaps supervision, this wasn't her first show, I think this is most likely a terrible and tragic accident.

What happened In February 1999 is far better documented. A newly hired, part time Custodial Cast Member Raymond Barlow, aged 65, was working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom sweeping on the 'Skyway' attraction. At around 9.00am Raymond was cleaning a narrow skyway platform when the attraction started up unexpectedly.

Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Larson was quoted at the time "Whoever switched it on didn't know Barlow was standing in the path of the cars".
Cast Members who witnessed the accident told investigating officers that Raymond had grabbed the four-person gondola which knocked him off the platform and tried to pull himself inside. He let go when he was over a flower bed, snapping tree branches on the way down. "He was looking for a place to fall. He didn't want to fall on the concrete, so he fell on the flower bed," Larson continued. Barlow, who had only become a Cast Member in September, died a short time later at Orlando Regional Medical Centre.

It was later determined that College Program Cast Members, unaware of his presence and not following pre-opening spiels, started up the ride and caused the death of their fellow Cast member. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration later ruled that the area in which Barlow had been working violated federal safety codes and fined Walt Disney World $4,500 for a "serious" violation of safety standards.

Five years later in February 2004, WDW Parade Cast Member Javier Cruz, 38, made prime time TV news was killed when the Beauty and the Beast 'Snow Globe' float ran over him while he was Backstage at 'Step Off' of the Magic Kingdom's afternoon Parade. The aftermath was captured by a local TV stations helicopter.

Javier had been a Cast Member for eight years at the time of the accident, His family understood from a fellow Parade performer that Javier had tripped in front of the float and there wasn't enough time for him to move before the float was upon him.

He was clearly not where he was supposed to be when the incident happened. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration report stated that Javier's right foot became caught between the second and third sections of the three-part float as it was about to enter the parade. When he fell he was run over by the third section of the float.

The Walt Disney Company was fined $6,300 by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration who categorised the citation "Serious" because employees were exposed to the 'hazard of being struck by motorised vehicles'. The accident was ruled as not being 'Willful' on the part of Disney. If it had been Disney would have been fined up to the maximum $70,000 payable in such cases.

Karen Price was working on the Primeval Whirl coaster at Disney's Animal Kingdom when she fell and injured her head against a ride vehicle. At the time of the accident Karen was in an off limits area of the ride, within the ride envelope, where Cast Members are not allowed when the attraction is in operation. The ride had not been shut down because the ride itself was functioning properly.

Authorities said Price was conscious, alert and talking when she was transported to a hospital, but doctors said her condition deteriorated on Wednesday. The next day Thursday, November 29, 2007, Karen died in a Florida hospital, five days after the accident.

On March 5, 2008, after the report by OSHA, Disney announced it was adding sensors that would detect if a Cast Member entered into areas that are off limits and shut off the ride. Sadly, I think this would be what is known as 'Misadventure' or simply put Karen wrong place wrong time.

Lastly, to bring this sorry list up to date we must mention Austin Wuennenberg who lost his life on July 5, 2009 in the Monorail crash at Walt Disney World. As previously reported on this site.

Earlier in this piece I suggested that there have only ever been five 'onstage' Cast Member deaths and I do think a death would have been a very big deal to cover up even before the all knowing internet age. "Too big in fact to be really feasible" but not perhaps impossible. Maybe in the early days the good people of Anaheim's dealings with Disney might have been more concerned with keeping local jobs than fully reporting accidental deaths but I must point out this is purely supposition and has no foundation in any facts I have found and I cannot give it any credibility.

* Disney Fact: No one ever dies in Disneyland - Nope they don't - to be legally dead your passing has to be confirmed by a medical Doctor. Disney doesn't have Doctors working in the parks. You may stop living in a park but you don't die till you get to the hospital... A small distinction but an important one.