This Overweight Teen Dancer Went Viral. Now Comes The Aftermath.

NEW YORK ― It was a late January evening, and Lizzy Howell’s iPhone would not stop buzzing. The 15-year-old from Milford, Delaware, watched in bewilderment as notification after notification flashed on her screen until her battery died.

Quite by accident, a video she’d posted of herself on Instagram a few months before had gone viral.

In the 10-second clip, Lizzy, wearing a maroon leotard and footless tights, is spinning on her toes, practicing a classical ballet move called fouetté turns. Eleven times she twirls, gracefully extending her leg and whipping it around. Behind her, several young dancers watch in appreciation.

Fouetté turns take a great deal of skill and years of practice to master. But it was not only her impressive execution that resonated with the public ― it was her size. Lizzy is overweight. When asked why she thought people were going crazy over her video, she shrugged.

“I guess it’s because I don’t have the typical dancer body?” she said in a recent interview at HuffPost’s New York office. Lizzy talked slowly, mulling her words before answering. Dressed in yoga pants and an Adidas sweatshirt, with her hair pulled into a half-ponytail, she looked like a typical teen.

“I’m still not sure,” she continued. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal what I’m doing, but everyone else seems to think so.”

There is no magic formula for viral videos, but certain tropes are common. Many of them feature adorable animals or kids. Many contain an element of surprise. They’re humorous. They tell a story. And they elicit a strong emotional reaction. In Lizzy’s case, the message that people took from it was a body-positive, feminist one: Women can be or do anything, regardless of their weight. They don’t have to be thin to dance.

As the video racked up views (as of this writing, it’s been played more than 380,000 times), thousands of people left comments praising Lizzy for her bravery. “I was honestly too scared to go into dancing because I was worried people would judge how I looked,” one commenter wrote. “This gave me the courage to at least try.”

“Oh my god I wish I could’ve had YOU spinning around inside the ballerina music box I had as a little girl instead of the ballerina figurine that it came with,” wrote another.

News organizations, drawn to the story of an inspiring teen breaking stereotypes, started calling. Lizzy was featured in BuzzFeed, People magazine, “Inside Edition,” Teen Vogue and more (including HuffPost’s Canadian edition). Overnight, she went from everyday teen to minor internet celebrity, joining a growing cadre of private citizens who are thrust into the national spotlight for a brief moment, then leave behind a digital footprint ― in Lizzy’s case, almost literally ― that can last a lifetime.  

It’s been three months since the clip went viral, and Lizzy is still adjusting to the change. She is grateful for the attention to her dancing ― it’s everything to her ― but the fame has had a personal cost.

While many comments have been positive, there’s also a current of hostility that would be hard for any teenager to withstand. Trolls post spiteful messages about her weight and looks. The worst thing she saw about herself online, she said, was a cruel joke comparing her to meat. Someone spliced footage of her dancing with video of a rotisserie chicken turning on a spit. She cried when she saw it.

Meanwhile, in offline life, relationships have deteriorated ― a loss that cuts deep.

Lizzy, who is home-schooled and gets most of her social interaction at her dance studio, has seen friendships falter, some of them with kids she’s been dancing with since she was 5. They’ve stopped being friends with her, she said. She assumes they’re jealous that she became famous and they didn’t.

“I’ve heard them say that it should have been them and not me, and I’m like, ‘I don’t understand it,’” she said. “They talk by themselves in the corner.”

turning monday¿ #ballet#turn#balletdancer#dancer#foutte

A post shared by Lizzy (@lizzy.dances) on

But Lizzy is strong. Maybe stronger than other teens her age. Her mother died when she was 5. She is being raised by her legal guardian, her great-aunt Linda Grabowski. The year her mom died, she started to dance, and she hasn’t stopped since. She practices at least four nights a week, taking classes in ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary.

“Dance is her outlet for all her emotions, good and bad,” Grabowski said. “She persevered. She wanted to drop out many many times.”

Over the years, Lizzy said, she was bullied because of her weight. She also struggles with pseudotumor cerebri, a medical condition caused by excess swelling in the brain. Last year, she underwent four spinal taps. Still, she keeps dancing. It brings her joy and comforts her when she feels low.

After she was diagnosed in 2016, she started home-schooling. Her medical condition, which can cause debilitating headaches and vision loss, requires frequent trips to the doctor. She is academically ambitious, with aspirations of becoming a forensic psychologist if she doesn’t make it as a professional dancer.

Still, Lizzy’s great-aunt does worry about her, and not without reason. Online fame can be disruptive to teens, according to Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. In the real world, their peers may be jealous or competitive, leading to friction at school or in social settings ― exactly the scenario playing out in Lizzy’s life.

“Our kids are already growing up more public than we were, and few of us are really equipped to guide our kids through that experience,” Heitner said.

Once kids experience a certain level of internet celebrity, they may obsess over their number of followers or likes as a way of quantifying their importance in the world.

Lizzy said she pays pretty close attention to her follower count, checking every day. She went from fewer than a thousand followers on Instagram to more than 92,000, but nowadays, the number has leveled off. The notifications have slowed down. That’s fine with her, she said, though she would still like to break the 100,000 mark.

Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, a pediatrician and digital media expert, said social media fame does not necessarily have a negative impact as long as kids are able to balance their time online and offline. “The goal is not to be famous in a virtual world, but just to live your life as an authentic teenager,” she said. “Remember that some parts of your life you can keep private.”

On Saturday, Lizzy stood in the back of a fitness studio in the basement of Athleta, a sportswear store in Manhattan. She wore Adidas sneakers and a royal blue dress, and she was nervous. The Camaraderie NYC, a social and empowerment group for women, had paid for her to travel to the city to tell her inspirational story, and now there were about 45 women eagerly waiting for her to talk.

Jane Taylor, founder of The Camaraderie, said she’d invited Lizzy to speak after being moved by her fearlessness. Her group is always looking for “extraordinary people who do extraordinary things, and they may not even know it,” she said.

Lizzy began talking, and the women sat on the floor and listened. She talked about her favorite dancers, her trouble finding cute and good-quality leotards in her size, and the amazing letter she got from Misty Copeland, in which the prima ballerina told Lizzy never to let others define her. Then, she opened up about the jealousy and bullying she had experienced. The worst part of her new internet fame was losing friends in real life, she admitted.

“I have like two friends left,” she said. “Everyone else dropped me.”

Taylor asked if anyone in the room had any advice on how to deal with jealousy.

One woman said you only really need one friend. Another reminded her how temporary the high school years are. Monica Parikh, a 45-year-old attorney, told Lizzy that she’d also been bullied as a kid for being different.

“You are building a ton of strength and character by going through this at such an early age,” she said. “My guess is that all those people who are bullying you one day are going to look back, and they are going to be in the same spot they are today ― and you will have just shot up like a meteor.”

The crowd murmured in agreement and Lizzy smiled. It was just what she needed to hear.

So far, Lizzy told HuffPost, her newfound fame has had more upsides than down. Even though she’s struggled with kids in her hometown, she is hopeful about the opportunities opening up to her. She will be appearing in an ad campaign for a clothing company soon, though she wasn’t at liberty to reveal the brand’s name.

All she really wants is for people to stop assuming things about her, she said. Don’t assume she isn’t trying to lose weight (she is), or that she wants to be a ballerina (she prefers contemporary and tap).

Like all teens, she hates being misunderstood.

“You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me,” she said. “You just saw a video of me dancing and you are making all these assumptions about my life.”

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Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.

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‘A River Below’ Shows The Media’s True Influence On Environmental Activism

You would think showcasing the violent killing of an Amazon pink river dolphin on national television would help put at end to the pain inflicted on this endangered species. But using the media in an age where truth is a relative term is not always wise for environmental activists. 

The new documentary by Mark Grieco, “A River Below,” which debuted at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, explores that concept while shining a light on these dolphins that are being hunted to extinction. Because they are docile and easy to catch, pink river dolphins are being killed and used as bait for scavenger fish, which is how earn local fisherman much of their money. But as “A River Below” presents, activists are trying everything they can to stop the cruelty ― although it’s never that simple. 

The film follows two men in particular: Richard Rasmussen, a reality TV star in Brazil known as the “Brazilian Steve Irwin,” and Dr. Fernando Trujillo, the world’s most noted expert on river dolphins and a preeminent environmental scientist. Can they truly help to prevent the extinction of this animal when there’s so much more going on under those murky waters of the Amazon River? 

Below, director Grieco talks to HuffPost about his poignant documentary and how we, as human beings, are making matters worse for the environment around us. 

What made you want to uncover what’s going on with the pink river dolphins in the Amazon? 
When I was first approached with the idea of making a film about the dolphins in
danger, I felt apprehensive about it becoming a “Save the Dolphin!”
documentary. But after meeting Fernando Trujillo, one of the film’s main
characters and an incredibly dedicated scientist and conservationist, I was
hooked and began to dig deeper to find more to the story. I found that many
indigenous groups in the Amazon have a similar myth about the dolphin as a
shape-shifting, trickster figure that breaches the water’s surface dressed as a
man to seduce a young woman. This is what the film is about: nothing is what it
seems and when faced with the desperation to save this creature, our characters transform and do the unexpected.

Was this topic always of interest to you? How did you discover what was
happening? 
I’ve traveled to the Amazon several times before this project and always wanted
to capture its grandeur and complexity in a film. I had no idea the dolphin was
threatened to the point of near extinction before meeting Fernando. He really was my guide to understanding the problem in a nuanced and comprehensive way. The larger issue of animal extinction and our role in it is something important to me. One of the most pressing issues of our time is that human activity is causing another great mass species extinction on Earth — that we live in the so-called “Anthropocene Extinction Era” — a time when the rate of extinction is somewhere between 100 to 1000 times the historically typical or “base” rate. Much of this is caused by deforestation, pollution, and the depletion of plant and animal resources for human consumption. In the Amazon basin and rainforest, one of the planet’s most biodiverse regions, the problem is potentially disastrous.

How did you go about getting the two activists, Fernando Trujillo and
Richard Rasmussen, involved? 
Fernando, like I said, was really the way into the story so he was there from the
beginning. When we started filming however, we discovered that so much of the
story was in Brazil. After digging around, we uncovered this brutal dolphin killing
video and its overnight success to change the law in Brazil. My immediate
reaction was to question how it was captured, where, and by whom. All roads led to Richard.

We are at a crossroads, which is said ad nauseam, but it obviously cannot be said enough because our leaders are not paying attention or perhaps are being paid to not pay attention. How else could a woefully ignorant message be perpetuated?
Mark Grieco, director of “A River Below”

What did you learn from the experience of directing this film?
My previous film, “Marmato,” changed my life, but also taught me one important
rule for documentary filmmaking: forget what film you want to make and listen to the voices whispering off-camera. I started with that same approach and it
steered us towards one of the most unbelievable stories and characters I’ve had
the chance to tell. It is also dovetailed perfectly with my own concerns with the
truth in images, media influence and distortion, performance for the camera, and my role in all of this as a documentary filmmaker. For me, every film is, in some way, a deeply personal yet momentary reflection of your self. You’ll never know exactly what you’re doing, so just commit relentlessly.

Does it make you nervous that some leaders of the world are not giving
notice to the environment, animals and climate change? 
It doesn’t make me nervous, it makes me angry. This is why I can completely
identify with the conviction of our main characters. Their actions are questionable and extreme because nothing substantial is being done. We are at a crossroads, which is said ad nauseam, but it obviously cannot be said enough because our leaders are not paying attention or perhaps are being paid to not pay attention. How else could a woefully ignorant message be perpetuated? My hope is not to give an answer to this one specific problem, but rather for the audience to recognize the messiness of it all, reflect on themselves, and question what we’re willing to do in the face of such immediate problems.

How can we impact change and protect these dolphins from future
abuse? 
I don’t have the answers, but after all this, it seems clear to me that the simple
answer is that it’s a very difficult solution. We have created systemic destruction, so we need systemic repair — a holistic approach. For me, environmental and ecological conservation is ultimately an act to save ourselves.

What inspires you as a documentary filmmaker? What’s your goal? 
To find the unexpected angle and story without ever preaching to the choir. My
hope is always to challenge the viewer because that is what I’m doing to myself
in the process of making my films.

“A River Below” screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. 

Welcome to Battleground, where art and activism meet.

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This Documentary Reveals A New Side Of The U.S. War In Afghanistan

The Green Berets were, in their own words, “America’s response to the most catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil ever.” Sent to Afghanistan in the wake of Sept. 11, the Army Special Forces crew is now the subject of a documentary called “Legion of Brothers.” The Huffington Post has the exclusive trailer.

Dispatched on top-secret anti-Taliban missions, the Green Berets recount their harrowing mission. “We’re just trying to live,” one says, reflecting on the intensity.

Despite tactical errors and the lingering stresses of warfare, the soldiers’ early initiatives were successful enough to convince them Islamic terrorism was being curtailed for good. Sixteen year later, we see the toll the war in Afghanistan took on these men’s lives. Director Greg Barker, who has experience with the subject via his 2014 doc “Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden,” presents “Legion of Brothers” as a nonpartisan story about the human toils of combat. 

“Brothers” open in select theaters May 19 and premieres on VOD platforms June 26. Watch the trailer above. 

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Selena Gomez Stands Behind ’13 Reasons Why’ Amid Controversy

Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” gained popularity almost instantly after being released on the streaming platform March 31. But as more and more people are watching the series, controversy has surfaced surrounding its sensitive subject matter

“13 Reasons Why,” based on the best-selling book by Jay Asher, follows the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who takes her own life after facing numerous traumatic experiences in high school. She records 13 tapes to give to the individuals she says played some sort of role in her decision, leaving her friend Clay (Dylan Minnette) to uncover the harsh reality behind her heartbreaking death. 

Due to the fact that the show is being binge-watched by the youngest generations, many, including experts in the field of suicide and assault, are worried that the graphic content of Brian Yorkey’s series is simply too much. 

Now, executive producer Selena Gomez is speaking out about her decision to join the project and put it out into the world. During an interview with E! News at a WE Day event Thursday, the 24-year-old said she’s “a little overwhelmed and very surprised” by the success of the show and stands behind its message to inform teens about the harsh realities of the world.

“I believed in the project for so long and I understood what the message was,” she said. “I just wanted it to come across in a way that kids would be frightened, but confused ― in a way that they would talk about it because it’s something that’s happening all the time. So, I’m overwhelmed that it’s doing as well as it’s doing.”

One of the show’s stars, Kate Walsh ― who plays Hannah’s mother ― recently spoke with HuffPost about the controversy, saying, “Parents and teachers and students [should] watch this and have conversations about sexual assault, about bullying, about LGBTQ issues, race issues, gender issues, suicide, depression and mental health, because largely in our country as we see now, it’s still in the shroud of shame or silence.” 

There is already buzz that “13 Reasons Why” will receive a second season, despite being based on a single novel. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix is close to renewing the series, with sources saying that “a writers room for the sophomore run has been up and running for a few weeks.”

When asked about a Season 2, Gomez smirked and told E!, “Maybe?”

We’ll have to wait and see what happens next. 

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the
National

Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free,
24-hour support from the
Crisis Text Line.
Outside of the U.S., please
visit the International Association for
Suicide Prevention
for a database
of resources.

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Young Ballerinas Lose It When Misty Copeland Surprises Them On TV

A group of young ballerinas from the Mayfair Performance Company on Chicago’s south side joined Steve Harvey on his talk show (airing Friday) to show him their best moves. But Mr. Harvey had a surprise in store: introducing the gifted dancers to their role model ― ballet icon Misty Copeland

Copeland has devoted her life to disrupting ballet history’s of privileging white bodies and European traditions. After learning ballet at the Boys & Girls Club growing up, she moved to New York when she was 17 years old and joined the American Ballet Theatre, the only black dancer in a company of 80.

In 2015, Copeland was declared a principal in that same company, becoming the first black female principal in its 75 year history. Copeland has written a children’s book and memoir about her journey to break into a field that historically excludes women of color and has spoken extensively about her mission to diversify the ballet landscape for future generations. 

“You know one day, if you study this long enough,” Harvey told the Mayfair dancers, after they declared their love of Copeland. “One day you could meet her. One day you could be her. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”

He then asked the ballet dancers to turn around ― adorable hugging and crying ensues. 

The Mayfair girls showed Copeland their own skills on the show, performing a stunning number for the ballet icon, as well as for Harvey and the studio audience. These gifted and passionate young women certainly deserve an equal opportunity to dance professionally. There is still far more work to be done in the ballet world, but Misty Copeland and other bold dancers putting pressure on ballet to change, and fast, are helping to make this possible. 

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Now You Can Learn ‘Game Of Thrones’ Fictional Language… For Real

Even the most dedicated “Game of Thrones” fan probably isn’t fluent in Dorthraki or High Valyrian, the two fictional languages spoken in George R. R. Martin’s epic series. But that’s about to change.

The University of California at Berkeley is offering a summer class in the Dorthraki’s native tongue. And it’s led by Berkeley alum, linguist David J. Peterson, who created both languages for the critically acclaimed HBO show.

Titled “The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention,” Peterson’s class will meet for four days a week during the May 22 – June 30 summer term, according to Berkeley News. 

The show’s seventh season is scheduled to return on July 16. And actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister on the show, confirmed this week that many of the leaks about the show’s upcoming season are real. 

“Every year, there are huge spoilers online where people find out real stuff and they will post it, and you go, ‘Oh my God, they just spoiled the whole season online!’ But then, because there’s 10,000 other spoilers out there, they’re not real. It just gets lost in the shuffle,” he told HuffPost. “So, it’s all out there by the way … if you can find it.”

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This Instagram Account Is Documenting Every Anti-Donald Trump Sticker In NYC

These small stickers are being used to make a big political point.

Dozens of different anti-Donald Trump labels have appeared across New York City since his presidential election win in November 2016. And the man behind the Resist Trump account on Instagram is on a mission to document each and every one of them.

“They’re basically all over the place, anywhere you would normally see street art,” said the photographer, who declined to be publicly identified, via email this week. “Phone booths are surprisingly fertile ground, I’ve noticed.”

#resist #resisttrump #trump #trumpmemes

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

The photographer said he was inspired to chronicle the often inconspicuous works of art after seeing the message “Fuck Trump” scrawled on New York City’s Manhattan Bridge.

“Since then I have just kept an eye out for it,” he said, revealing that he photographs the stickers as he walks around Manhattan and Brooklyn. He also occasionally features other forms of protest art on his account.

His favorite label is currently the above one with the word “NO” underneath an emblem depicting Trump’s coiffed hair. He prefers the pieces that make you think.

#resist #resisttrump #trump #trumpmemes

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

“I mean, the ones where people just write ‘Fuck Trump’ or ‘Trump sucks’ don’t exactly grab my attention the way, for instance, (Steve) Bannon puppeteering Trump does,” he said of the above image of the White House Chief Strategist in control of the president.

The underlying theme behind all the stickers he has photographed is “probably the same thing that inspired me to start taking the pictures,” he said. “It’s a way of dealing with and trying to make at least a little light out of a dark situation.”

Visit the account here, see more anti-Trump street art here and check out some of the other stickers below:

#resist #resisttrump #trump #trumpmemes

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

#resisttrump #resist #trump #trumpmemes

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

#resist #trump #trumpmemes #resisttrump

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

#resist #trump #trumpmemes #resisttrump

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

#trumpmemes #trump #resisttrump #resist

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

#resist #resisttrump #trump #trumpmemes

A post shared by Resist Trump (@resistrump) on

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The 20 Funniest Tweets From Women This Week

The ladies of Twitter never fail to brighten our days with their brilliant ― but succinct ― wisdom. Each week, HuffPost Women rounds up hilarious 140-character musings. For this week’s great tweets from women, scroll through the list below. Then visit our Funniest Tweets From Women page for our past collections.

Sign up for our Funniest Tweets Of The Week newsletter here

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The Alluring Power Of Leopard Print, In Photos From Across The World

Leopards are carnivorous cats distinguished by their strength, adaptability and rosette-speckled fur, which acts as easy camouflage in their natural environments. If you’ve ever adorned yourself with some sort of leopard print clothing or accessory, you may have felt a certain power in its furry grip ― a connection to nature, a feline poise, the fearlessness of a predator. 

Haitian-Canadian photographer Émilie Régnier has long been fascinated by the eternally fashionable pattern, for both its history and the almost supernatural powers it endows those who don it.

For her series “Leopard,” the artist traveled to Dakar, Senegal; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Johannesburg, South Africa; Paris, France; and a small town in Texas, documenting the diverse individuals who overlapped in their soft spot for the soft spots. 

The project began when Régnier was searching for new models in Paris. She encountered a woman there who showed up for a shoot wearing a leopard print boubou ― a long, African dress. “The image of this woman inhabited me for days onwards,” Régnier wrote in a statement to HuffPost. She then realized how frequently leopard print appeared in the world around her. “It was worn everywhere and by everyone,” she said. 

Leopard print has different connotations depending on the time and place in which it appears. In Africa, dating back to the kings under British colonialism, leopard fur equals power, derived from the image of the leopard as “king of the jungle.” A former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, was known for donning a leopard print toque ― a tight fitting hat ― that henceforth associated the animal template with authority. 

One of Régnier’s subjects is a man named Samuel Weidi, who works as a professional Mobutu impersonator. It is undoubtedly the signature hat that makes Weidi’s identity legible, and it almost feels as if the print’s power makes the wearer stand up a bit straighter. 

The photo series introduced Régnier to a variety of individuals who gravitated toward leopard for very different reasons. For the wealthy fashionistas in Paris, leopard had been a sign of luxury since Christian Dior introduced animal print into his 1947 collection, officially dubbing it “haute couture.”

For a tattoo artist named Larry based in Texas, however, leopard print is literally a second skin. The man posed nude for Régnier, his entire body covered in spots thanks to over 1,000 tattoos.

Ultimately, Régnier’s project follows it single motif around the world, documenting the various individuals who, regardless of age, gender, profession or personal style, are drawn to leopard print’s alluring presence. 

Émilie Régnier’sFrom Mobutu to Beyoncé is on view until June 4 at the Bronx Documentary Center. See our previous coverage of her work here.

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Walt Disney’s Last Words Were ‘Kurt Russell,’ According To Kurt Russell

When it comes to the legend of Walt Disney’s final statement, Kurt Russell has the last word.

Disney Studios has always been a huge part of the actor’s career. He signed a 10-year contract with the studio early on and now Russell is starring as Star-Lord’s dad, Ego, in Disney and Marvel’s upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Still, his connection to the company goes well beyond business. 

As a kid, Russell had a close, personal relationship with Walt Disney. The industry pioneer thought so highly of the young actor that a legend surfaced claiming Disney’s last words were actually “Kurt Russell.”

In fact, it’s more than legend, according to Russell. It’s true. 

Disney died in 1966 when Russell was still a teen. The actor says he learned about Disney’s last words a couple of years later.

In a recent interview, Russell told HuffPost, “They pulled me into the office a couple years after he died, and this woman — who I don’t believe it was his secretary, but it might’ve been, I don’t know ― pointed to [something he wrote] and she said, ‘Do you know what that’s about?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t.’[She said], ‘Because he wrote something after it. But then he went back up and he wrote your name. That was the last thing he wrote.’ And I said, ‘Oh gee. I don’t know what it’s connected to.’”

Was it because Disney considered Russell a friend? Was it for a movie role? Who knows?

Russell said he’s been asked about it for years, but he doesn’t know any more than that. “She was pointing out that that’s the last thing he wrote. That’s the only thing I know.”

The actor said Disney was very important in his life and he learned a “tremendous amount” from him. Russell’s stories are even more unbelievable than learning Disney’s last words.

“We did have a personal relationship. We played Ping-Pong at lunch sometimes. He’d come down to set. We’d go watch movies that the studio was making, and he’d come down and ask if I wanted to go see them. He’d took me around and introduced me to all the different departments at Disney, and at one point gave me a bunch of original photo cells that they make the backdrop drawings of the characters and stuff like that,” said Russell.

“There were many, many things that I connected with him [on],” he continued. “He reminded me a lot of my own grandfather. My grandfather was a creative and sort of inventive man, and they were not dissimilar in their demeanor, too.”

Apparently, Disney even liked to give Russell career advice. The actor’s family has a deep connection to professional baseball; his dad, Bing Russell, ended up owning a minor league baseball team — a “unique” minor league baseball team (which is the subject of the documentary “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”). Kurt played pro baseball himself for a while, too. Disney told him early on that he didn’t think it was for him.

“I was very comfortable around him, and I had a great time with him, great relationship, and it was very important. He said to me, ‘Baseball might not be something that you end up doing as a career.’ He said, ‘I think you might want to look at things in this business because I think your going to have a long career.’ So he did have a strong effect on me,” recalled Russell.

After an injury reportedly slowed his baseball dreams, Russell became an actor again, and Disney’s prediction of a long career came true. 

“Guardians of the Galaxy 2” is now set to be one of the biggest box-office successes of the actor’s career, and it’s coming on the heels of another one of the his movies, “Fate of the Furious,” which is soon passing $1 billion worldwide

Russell said, “It’s just serendipitous the fact that they’re coming out literally back-to-back, so that’s kind of [an] amazing event.”

Or perhaps it’s just a bit of Disney magic.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” hits theaters in May. 

 

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