By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS - Published: February 5, 2004
BURBANK, Calif. (AP) - John Hench, a longtime Disney artist and the official portrait painter of Mickey Mouse, died Thursday. He was 95.
Hench, whose work were featured in both the company's animated films and theme parks, designed such attractions as Disneyland's Space Mountain. He died of heart failure at a Burbank hospital, The Walt Disney Co. said.
Hench began his career with Disney in May 1939 as a sketch artist on "Fantasia," later working on story editing, layout and special effects for such classic Disney films as "Dumbo," "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella."
He also played a key role in the creation of Disney resorts and theme parks around the world.
"John Hench taught me and so many others about the essence of the Disney legacy. He was at Walt's side during the creation of so much classic entertainment and continued to be a vital creative force for our company right up to the end," said Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of the Disney company, in a statement Thursday.
When Walt Disney started planning for Disneyland, one of the first artists he enlisted was Hench. After Disney's death in 1966, Hench oversaw the creation of Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971 and the addition of Epcot in 1982. He also helped supervise the design of Disney's first overseas park, Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983 in Japan, among other projects.
His color sense was legendary. The head of a corporation once insisted on white for the walls of an Epcot attraction. A frustrated Hench replied, "Well, I have 34 shades of white. Which one do you want?"
With his clipped mustache and Ascot tied neatly around his neck, he resembled a character actor in a 1930s movie. He also resembled Disney, to the point he was sometimes mistaken for him.
Hench, who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and grew up in Southern California, received a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and later studied at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco.
He won an Academy Award for special effects for the 1955 film "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
Last year, Hench produced a book about his life and work, "Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show," written with Peggy Van Pelt. The large volume included dozens of Hench's drawings and paintings.