Legendary Disney Animator and Imagineer Francis Xavier X Atencio passes away at age 98

Sep 12, 2017 in "The Walt Disney Company"

Disney has announced the sad news that Disney Legend Xavier “X” Atencio, a former Imagineer and Disney animator, passed away on September 10 at the age of 98.

X was responsible for helping bring to life a number of beloved Disney parks attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, as well as such animated classics as Pinocchio and Fantasia.

Born on September 4, 1919, in Walsenburg, Colorado, X—whose friends shortened his name from Francis Xavier to simply “X”—moved to Los Angeles in 1937 to attend the Chouinard Art Institute. X thought a job at Disney was out of his reach, but the then-18-year-old artist’s instructors prodded him to submit his portfolio. In 1938, when he got the good news from Disney, X ran from the original Hyperion Avenue studio to his aunt’s house shouting, “I got a job at Disney! I got a job at Disney!”

X first saw his work on screen at the 1940 premiere of Pinocchio, and as he watched, he was incredibly moved by seeing the audience’s reaction. That year, he was promoted to assistant animator for Fantasia but left temporarily to join the Army Air Corps in the war effort.

Upon his return in 1945, he picked up where he left off, returning to the studio and working for the next eight years on animated short subjects. His first on-screen credit was for Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom in 1953, an Oscar®-winning film that took audiences through the history of music. Other films X contributed to during this time included Noah’s Ark (1959) and A Symposium on Popular Songs (1962), both Academy Award® nominees, as well as Jack and Old Mac (1956). He worked on the “I’m No Fool” series for the original Mickey Mouse Club, and in the 1960s, X provided memorable stop-motion sequences for Disney feature films The Parent Trap (1961), Babes in Toyland (1961), and Mary Poppins (1964).

At the request of Walt Disney, X transferred to WED Enterprises (later Walt Disney Imagineering) in 1965 to work on the Primeval World diorama for Disneyland. At first, X was unsure of the move to WED: “I went over there reluctantly because I didn’t know what I was getting into, and nobody there knew what I was supposed to do either,” he recalled. “About a month later I got a phone call from Walt. He told me ‘I want you to do the script for the Pirates of the Caribbean.’” From that point on, X cemented his legacy at WED, playing a key role in the development of music and dialogue for the attraction, including co-writing the iconic song, “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).” For the Haunted Mansion, he wrote the attraction’s dialogue and co-wrote the song “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” For Walt Disney World, he contributed to If You Had Wings and Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, as well as Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, and the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. Throughout his career, X always said that his reward, as it was in the days of Pinocchio, “is still the audience’s reactions.”

“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. That was how X worked—with an enthusiastic, collaborative attitude, along with a great sense of humor. His brilliant work continues to inspire Imagineers and bring joy to millions of guests every year.”

X retired from Disney in 1984, but continued working as a consultant to Walt Disney Imagineering for many years, and was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1996. He is survived by his wife, Maureen; his children Tori McCullough, Judianne, and Joe; his stepchildren Brian Sheedy, Kevin Sheedy, and Eileen Haubeil; sons-in-law Mike McCullough and Chris Haubeil; daughters-in-law Kathy Atencio, Trish Sheedy, and Beth Sheedy; and eight grandchildren.

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Article Posted: Sep 12, 2017 / 9:31am EDT
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NiarrNDisneyJan 06, 2018

Just read and watched this interesting piece on X. Atencio http://kdvr.com/2018/01/03/colorado-man-was-a-disney-legend/ I always knew John Hench was from Fort Collins Co but I had no clue X lived just south of me on the highway!

ChrisFLSep 14, 2017

Very sad, he had the coolest name too (I know it stands for Xavier but still...)

Fable McCloudSep 13, 2017

I'll never not think of him when I hear the guy in the coffin saying "get me out" because I know it's his voice. He's also the reason I love the room cleaning scene in Mary Poppins. I'll miss him.

Matt_BlackSep 13, 2017

This was something I whipped up for Cracked.com's photoplasty contest, "Songs Written by the Last Person You'd Expect." I got into the Top 5, which was the best I've ever done with the admittedly few entries I've submitted to their contests.

Smiley/OCDSep 12, 2017

Oh. wow...another piece of Uncle Walt's dream is now helping create the best theme park EVER...no lines, fast passes or meal plans...R. I. P., X...

celluloidSep 12, 2017

One of the reasons you heard about Marty Sklar more in recent years rather than X, was because X was not a fan and not a condoner of the changes to Pirates of the Caribbean. He is one of the originals if not the original who coined the phrase "They are not Boy Scouts of the Caribbean"

WDWTankSep 12, 2017

Maybe he can haunt Iger and Chapek's desk!;)

WDWTankSep 12, 2017

Disney, I order you!

WDWTankSep 12, 2017

Don't change the Redhead scene! That was one of his contributions!

HauntedPirateSep 12, 2017

:cry: Sad to read about his passing. But wow, 98 years old, and for everything he did, he had a helluva good run.

Cmdr_CrimsonSep 12, 2017

Oh good. I thought they had updated the spiel when they refurbed awhile back..

brb1006Sep 12, 2017

I ain't ready for the day Tony Baxter passes.

montyz81Sep 12, 2017

The entire band is getting back together. My hope is the Walt, Marty, X, et all, will make there way back during the holidays as the ghosts of Disney past, present and future to Chappie's or Igar's houses to remind them of what Disney Parks has been about for over 60 years. RIP X, enjoy some grog with Marty, Walt and the rest of the boys!

rodserling27Sep 12, 2017

HIs immortal contributions to the WD Company will hopefully live on forever. RIP, Mr. Atencio!