From OC Register
The man who arguably best documented the world’s first theme park over his long career has died at age 86, at his retirement home in Glendale, Arizona.
Renie Bardeau — a publicity photographer at Disneyland for nearly 40 years — died of kidney failure Monday, after having recently contracted COVID-19, his daughter, Debbie Bardeau said Tuesday from her house in Carson.
“What little fight he had left in him, we think the COVID took it from him,” Debbie Bardeau said.
He was responsible for one of the most iconic photos ever taken of the park: An image of Walt Disney strolling in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Snapped in 1964, it became known as the “Footsteps” photo, and was subsequently printed and sold on shirts, coffee mugs, lithographs and posters. He estimated that he’d taken hundreds of thousands of other pictures over the years, including 100,000 of Mickey Mouse.
He also shot celebrities and royalty visiting the park including Japanese Emperor Hirohito, presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, Sen. Robert Kennedy, astronaut John Glenn, actors Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant and John Wayne.
Disneyland issued a statement reading, “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Renie Bardeau, who will long be remembered for some of the most iconic Disneyland photography ever published. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time.”
A native of Tucson, Arizona, Bardeau became interested in photography while in high school, and built his own light box camera. He worked on the school paper and yearbook.
He later served a stint as a ship’s photographer on the USS Midway, and studied advertising and marketing at the University of Arizona. He went to apply for a part-time job as a photographer at Disneyland while still in school, after a friend tipped him off that the still-new theme park was looking for someone. Hired by Walt Disney, he began a summer job working at the park in 1959 and then went full-time in 1963, after college, moving his young family to Anaheim.
“My dad really loved the way Walt thought about how family entertainment should be universal for everyone and not just a select few,” Debbie Bardeau said. She also spent much of her adult life working for Disney.
Reportedly, Bardeau’s first assignment as a cub photographer was photographing Walt Disney with then-Vice President Nixon at the opening of Tomorrowland. He remembered spending many hours in the darkroom, back when they were indispensable.
“Following his retirement in 1998, Renie was presented with a Window on Main Street, U.S.A., fittingly located above the Main Street Photo Supply Co.” Disneyland said in its statement. “It reads: ‘Kingdom Photo Services, The Magic Eye to the World, Renie Bardeau.’”
Social media was buzzing Tuesday, sharing stories and condolences. Tod Gerard, a member of the Disney History Institute, posted that Bardeau was a “kind and generous gentleman, and will be missed.”
Renie Bardeau appreciated working for Walt Disney, and loved to tell stories about him, including one about eating breakfast at the former Hills Brothers Cafe on Main Street.
“In comes Walt and asks me if he could sit down,” Bardeau said in a 2011 interview. “So immediately a waitress comes over and asks, ‘Can I help you, Mr. Disney?’ Walt says, ‘Yes, but remember, I am Walt. There is only one Mr. in Disneyland and that’s Mr. Toad.’ ”
Bardeau said in an interview that his favorite photo was the final one he ever took of Walt Disney in the park, sitting in a fire truck next to Mickey Mouse, with Sleeping Beauty Castle in the background. Disney died a few months later.
Orange County-based photographer Joshua Sudock, who has spent 16 years professionally shooting at Disneyland as a news photographer and later on the Disneyland staff, said he “revered” Bardeau’s work, in part because he always managed to make the park the star of the photo, no matter who else was in the shot.
“I didn’t always know Renie’s name, but I always knew his work,” Sudock said. “Renie had the ability to produce photos that were not only beautiful but also iconic. … It’s an influence I carried into the parks when I did my work.”
Debbie Bardeau, who also spent much of her adult life working at Disneyland, said her biggest regret was that she wasn’t able to be with her father at at the end, due to COVID.
“Families all over the world are going through this right now, not being able to say goodbye to their loved ones,” Debbie Bardeau said Tuesday.