The 1993 film ‘Free Willy’ was a box office hit, earning more than $153 million worldwide. The star was a male orca named Keiko, who’d originally been captured off the coast of Iceland in 1979.
After the success of ‘Free Willy’, donations poured in from millions of people so that effort could be put forth to find him a better home. The process of rehabilitating him back to the ocean began in September 1998, which included supervised swims in the ocean. He was finally released into the wild in July 2002. About six weeks later, however, he showed up in Norwegian waters seeking human contact. He even allowed children to ride on his back!
Keiko’s release into the wild was unfortunately deemed a failure, and he died of pneumonia in December 2003. There’s now a memorial in Halsa, Norway, dedicated to him, where visitors can see his final resting place.