On this day in 1994, Disney lost a true legend. Frank Wells, former President and COO of the Walt Disney Company, was tragically killed in a helicopter accident in Nevada at the young age of 62.
When “The Lion King” opened in theaters many saw a dedication in the credits that read: “In Remembrance Of Frank Wells – President of the Walt Disney Company 1984-1994.” I remember seeing those words, and knowing of the man, but not knowing the impact Mr. Wells truly had on the company.
Wells was one of the driving forces in the turn around of the Disney Company in the 1980s. According to his Disney Legends profile:
“During his 10-year-tenure, Disney enjoyed unprecedented growth and revitalization with annual revenues up from $1.5 billion to $8.5 billion. Disney stocks increased a whopping 1,500 percent, while its theme parks and resorts revenues tripled. Disney Consumer Products revenues rose 13-fold, while its filmed entertainment revenues jumped 15-fold. Frank helped make Disney one of the most successful film studios in the world.”
I would personally argue that the Eisner era enjoyed its greatest successes while Wells was in tenure for the company. He seemed to be the “Roy” to Michael’s “Walt.” For more on what Frank meant to the company, I highly recommend the fantastic documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty.”
Frank Wells was also quite an adventurer. In 1983, he set out to climb the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents within a single year – a feat never before accomplished at that time. He scaled six, but was forced to turn back near the top of Mount Everest. His mountaineering exploits were chronicled in his book,”Seven Summits,” co-authored by Dick Bass and Rick Ridgeway and published in 1986. His love of mountain climbing was paid tribute in the Matterhorn at Disneyland.
I still salute – rather quickly – every time my bobsled passes by. Thank you, Frank. Your contributions to Disney helped to rejuvenate the company and bring magic to a new generation of fans.