ByJancy Richardson, writer at
To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie...It's only a movie...'
Jancy Richardson

Ten years ago today, Keiko, the star of Free Willy passed away. Free Willy delighted the world, but the story of its star, Orca whale Keiko, is much sadder.

It's clear that a lot of people cared about Keiko, but it seems that his movie stardom came at a high price.

Keiko was captured from the wild in Iceland in 1979, where they named him. Keiko means 'Lucky One' in Japanese.

He was sold to Marineland, Ontario in 1982, then to a Mexican amusement park in 1985.

He learned tricks, but also developed skin lesions due to poor health.

Keiko starred in Free Willy (1993)

Moved by his performance, Warner Bros. set up the The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation to re-home him, back in the wild.

However, many felt re-introducing him to the open ocean would endanger his life after years in captivity.

His re-homing was plagued with difficulties. When carrying him back to Iceland, the aircraft suffered $1 million damage, though Keiko was unharmed.

Keiko was freed in 2002, but he kept coming back to peopled waters, seeming to seek human contact.

He even let children ride on his back.

Keiko died in Norway, in the care of the Foundation. Ultimately, his death came from his bond with humans.

Keiko died in Norway, in the care of the Foundation. He just couldn't keep away from the children who loved him.

700 people attended his memorial service in 2004. The chaplain said 'Keiko was not one of our kind but nonetheless, was still one of us.'

Today is Keiko day. Share if you loved Keiko too.


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