LOS ANGELES — Xavier “X” Atencio, an animator behind early Disney movies including “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” and “imagineer” behind beloved Disneyland rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, has died at 98.
Atencio died Sunday, Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said. No cause or place of death were given, but Atencio lived and worked in the Los Angeles area most of his life.
Atencio’s drawings on “Pinocchio” helped give Disney its permanent identity in film and culture. His contributions to “Pirates” included the words to the “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” song that is sung throughout the ride — and, often, by park-goers for days after.
“The Haunted Mansion has gained a valuable friend,” actor Neil Patrick Harris tweeted. “Rest in Peace X Atencio.”
He was born Francis Xavier Atencio on Sept. 4, 1919, in Walsenburg, Colorado. But friends in his youth shortened Francis Xavier to just “X,” and that’s what he was known by the rest of his life.
He was still a teenager with a gift for drawing in 1938 when he began working for Disney, a company that was even younger than he was and that at the time had just one feature film — 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — to its name.
Atencio would see his work on the big screen in the company’s next two films in 1940, when he helped bring “Pinocchio” to life and worked on the musical and mystical “Fantasia” before leaving temporarily to serve in World War II.
After returning, he helped design stop-motion sequences for the Disney live action films “The Parent Trap” and “Mary Poppins.”
When the company’s work started including theme parks in the 1950s and 1960s, so did Atencio’s. At the request of Walt Disney, he became an “imagineer,” in the company’s parlance, helping design rides for Disneyland and Disney World. He wrote the story and song that play out on “Pirates” and “Haunted Mansion.”
“X was an enormous talent who helped define so many of our best experiences around the world,” said Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering. “Some may not know that when he wrote the lyrics for ‘Yo Ho.’ he had never actually written a song before. He simply proposed the idea of a tune for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and Walt told him to go and do it.”
Atencio retired in 1984, but he continued working as a consultant. In 1996, the company named him a “Disney Legend.”
His death comes just weeks after that of another Disney Imagineering legend, Marty Sklar.
Atencio is survived by his wife Maureen, three children, three stepchildren and nine grandchildren.