Animation and Disney historian Jim Korkis died on July 28 of stage four colon cancer. He was 72.
James (“Jim”) Patrick Korkis was born on August 15, 1950, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Five years later, his family moved to the L.A. suburb of Glendale. As a young student, Disney was never far from Korkis, and one of his elementary school teachers, Mrs. Disney, was married to Walt’s older brother Herbert.
After earning his master’s degree at Occidental College, Korkis began his professional life working as a middle school teacher and actor. He supplemented his income as a tour guide at the Los Angeles Zoo, developing a skill set that he would rely on again later in life.
Living so close to the heart of the Disney empire, Korkis was constantly interacting with studio employees, including several Disney legends. He was a comics history buff and wrote a trivia column for Amazing Heroes and articles for Comic Book Marketplace, Comics Artists, and more.
A voracious researcher, he established recognition for his work as an animation historian and over the years wrote long-running columns at several major animation outlets including Animation Magazine, Animato!, and Animania. In the late Eighties, Korkis and writing partner John Cawley launched a full-color animation publication Cartoon Quarterly through Gladstone Publishing, but it lasted only a single issue.
Korkis was prolific as an author and wrote several dozen animation history books including The Vault of Walt series and Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories. With Cawley, Korkis wrote How to Create Animation and The Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars, among other titles. Korkis even wrote a book about how to get his job: How to Be a Disney Historian: Tips from Top Professionals offers tips and insights from other historians and researchers about how to pursue Disney-related research.
Korkis was involved in the theater and appeared in more than 100 stage productions during his lifetime. He directed more than 100 performances as well, often overlapping the two roles. He did occasional voice work and, alongside his brothers, appeared on several game shows including The Gong Show, The Dating Game, and Family Feud. He also appeared in the pilot episode of The Origins Game, linked below.
In a 2015 interview with Attractions Magazine, Korkis explained what inspired him to begin cataloging Disney stories.
Growing up in Glendale, Calif., I had the opportunity to meet and interview dozens of people who had worked with Walt Disney. I was in the right place at the right time to hear and record these great stories. Unfortunately, many of these people were old, even when I first met them as a teenager. They started passing away, and I realized their stories were being lost. I felt an obligation to give them another chance to tell their version of the Disney story. Disney history is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, but many of the pieces are missing. I hoped that if I shared my pieces, maybe other people would share their pieces, and we would all enjoy a richer perspective of the overall picture.
In 1995, Korkis relocated to Florida to care for his parents. Korkis’ incredible depth of knowledge of The Walt Disney Company made him an ideal candidate to work at the Disney Institute, which opened in 1996. There, he served as an animation instructor to Disney World resort guests, teaching animation courses and helping out with annual animation events. He taught classes on story, entertainment, and communication arts, and headed bi-monthly evening presentations on the history of classic Disney animation.
Korkis filled numerous positions for the company over the years, including Guest Relations at Epcot, tour instructor with Disney Adult Discoveries, and coordinator with The Disney Learning Center. He was also brought in as a special consultant for Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, Imagineering, and Animation, where he taught classes for interns. During the years he worked for Disney, he continued writing animation-related columns, albeit under a pseudonym: Wade Sampson, the name of a fictional character that satirized Walt Disney in the 1971 novel The Rat Factory.
In 2009, Korkis was laid off by the Walt Disney Company and began writing full-time. A prolific writer, he released numerous books over the following years, frequently making public speaking appearances to share his vast knowledge.
Korkis is survived by his two brothers Michael and Chris.
In an obituary penned by Korkis himself and which appeared on Facebook, the writer picked his final words:
There are so many books I wanted to read or re-read, so many movies and television shows I wanted to see or re-see, and more many food treats I wanted to enjoy again like See’s chocolates. I know God loves me and this is part of his plan. Be happy and kind to each other. When you think of me, I hope you smile. I loved you all and appreciated your generosity, support, and hope.
Pictured at top: Jim Korkis, taken from his Gofundme page.