Disney Theme Parks Legend Dick Nunis Passes Away

Disney Theme Parks Legend Dick Nunis Passes Away

Other than Walt Disney himself, there is in my mind no other individual who has made such a dent on what people know as the Disney theme park experience than Dick Nunis, whose passing has been made public today, December 13th, 2023. He is a Disney legend, and without his leadership, projects like Magic Kingdom and Epcot and Typhoon Lagoon would have never gotten to the finish line. His leadership was as impressive as any individual involved in the parks. And his leadership style–it was many times controversial. No one got results and made things happen like Dick Nunis. My former supervisor spoke often of how he mentored the leaders around him and spoke so keenly about the guest experience. And yet others spoke of how he could verbally tear you apart like no other. Still, he is more than a Disney Legend. He is a force to be reckoned with. When Dick Nunis joined Disneyland in 1955, the Park employed 600 cast members. By the time he retired from his “summer job” 44 years later, Disneyland boasted 13,000 cast members and Walt Disney World employed another 50,000. He is a legend. And this podcast celebrates the essence and lessons learned of his leadership.

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Disney Career Synopsis:

Here is what D23 in part shared:

Born May 30, 1932, in Cedartown, Georgia, Dick received a football scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC). His ambition to become a professional football player and coach was cut short, however, when he suffered a broken neck while playing ball. In 1955, he graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Science in education.

Dick learned about Disneyland through his classmate, Ron Miller, who was Walt’s son-in-law. On a lark, he decided to apply for a summer job at the new theme park and was hired by Van France, founder of The Disney University and author of the Park’s orientation and training program. Just prior to the Park’s July 17, 1955, debut, the duo began training Disneyland employees. Among members of their first class were Walt and his executives.

Dick soon worked his way up to attractions supervisor, developing standard operating procedures for all of the Park’s attractions. Many of these are still in use today. In 1961, he became director of park operations and helped develop “Project X,” better known as Walt Disney World.

From 1967-74, Dick also served as chairman of the Park Operations Committee, and, in 1968, was bumped up to vice president of operations. By 1971, the year the Magic Kingdom opened at Walt Disney World, he was named executive vice president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

In 1980, a month after his 25th anniversary with Disney, he was named president of the Outdoor Recreation Division, overseeing Walt Disney World, Epcot Center and, later, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park. Dick also consulted on plans for Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland while serving on the Walt Disney Productions Board of Directors.

On May 26, 1999, exactly 44 years to the day since he joined the Company, Dick retired as chairman of Walt Disney Attractions.

Dick Nunis. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Our podcast shares the following stories:

  • With Walt Disney on the Jungle Cruise
  • Adding a Dock to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Building a Wave Pool on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Typhoon Lagoon
  • Pressure to Open Epcot.
  • Joe Rhode Pitching Disney’s Animal Kingdom to Dick Nunis

A Century of Powerful Disney Insights Book

You can order my newest book, “A Century of Powerful Disney Insights” on Amazon. It’s a great way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company. In over 100 years, The Walt Disney Company has emerged as one of the most successful entertainment entities across the globe. In this, the first of two volumes, we study the first 50 years of Disney, beginning with Walt and Roy. We look at major milestones and not only see the evolution of an organization begun in a garage, but how it truly became so beloved to millions around the world. From Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse through Snow White and Cinderella, from the Mouseketeers to Mary Poppins, and from Disneyland to Walt Disney World, we share stories and insights from 1923 to 1973. We hope you’ll be inspired with ideas and how you can apply these stories to your own life and work. 

Order your copy today!

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