The Walt Disney Co. welcomed eight new members to its exclusive club of Disney Legends at the D23 Expo on Friday, including the father of “Star Wars” George Lucas, Johnny Depp, composer Danny Elfman and longtime “All My Children” star Susan Lucci.
Depp, making his first public appearance since last year’s Hollywood Awards, joked about being in such good company.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” Depp quipped.
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Alice in Wonderland” star added: “I never really liked the word ‘fan.’ It implies that someone is over someone else. I would say that you are actually my employer.”
The actor has recently been filming Disney’s fifth “Pirates” installment in Australia, where he suffered a hand injury that delayed production earlier this year.
Lucas, another honoree who took the stage, said he was also humbled by the thousands of fans in attendance.
“Disney has been part of my life for 60 years,” Lucas said. “I was there the second day Disneyland was open. A lot of what I do came out of the films and the joy I’ve had at the park. In fact here’s something no one knows: Goofy was the inspiration for Jar Jar Binks.”
Lucas recently put his iconic “Star Wars” franchise into Disney’s hands. He has had a long association with the company’s theme parks, beginning with Disneyland’s “Captain EO” 3D show that opened in 1986, and including Star Tours and the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland as well as other movie-themed attractions at other parks.
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Former ESPN executive chairman George Bodenheimer, veteran animator Andreas Deja, the late Disney artist Eyvind Earle, the first Disneyland ambassador Julie Reihm Casaletto and Disney Consumer Products veteran Carson Van Osten rounded out the day’s honorees.
Each new Disney Legend received a sculpture signifying their contributions to the Disney Company and had their handprints encased in bronze to be displayed in the Disney Legends Plaza at the studio’s Burbank HQ.
Elfman has a long history scoring music for several Disney films, both animated and live action, starting with “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” through the upcoming “Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass.” Other scores he wrote for Disney include those for “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Frankenweenie” and “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
Lucci played the beleaguered Erica Kane on ABC’s long-running soap opera “All My Children” for 41 years, earning 21 Daytime Emmy nominations. The actress currently stars in Lifetime’s “Devious Maids,” produced by ABC Studios.
Bodenheimer retired from ESPN in May 2014 after a 33-year career at the company, starting in the mailroom and working his way up to the top spot.
Character animator Dejas is known mostly for his colorful villains such as Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast,” Jafar in “Aladdin” and Scar in “The Lion King.” But he did fine work on Disney protagonists like the titular “Hercules” and Lilo of “Lilo & Stitch” as well as King Triton in “The Little Mermaid” and Mama Odie in “The Princess and the Frog.”
Earle, who died in 2000 at the age of 84, was best known for his background artwork on several classic Disney animated films, most notably the styling, background and colors of “Sleeping Beauty.” He also created the look for the Oscar-winning animated short “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom.”
Casaletto was a Disneyland tour guide when she was chosen to become the park’s first ambassador in 1965, representing Disneyland at events in place of Walt Disney, who was becoming increasingly too busy to attend himself. According to Disney, she was chosen “as a personification of Disneyland’s world-famous spirit of friendliness and happiness,” and was long regarded as the template for all future ambassadors.
Van Osten is known for bringing a variety of Disney characters to life in myriad media for 30 years, overseeing creative content for film tie-in advertising and establishing some of the first licensing style guides for Disney Consumer Products. He also designed the logos for Mickey Mouse’s 50th and 60th birthdays and Walt Disney Studios, among others.
“Today we add several new Legends to this elite group,” Disney chief Bob Iger said. “They are an indelible parts of our legacy.”