The killer whale who played WILLY in the Free Willy movie trilogy has
tragically died following a dramatic case of pneumonia.
The whale, real name Keiko, died suddenly aged 27, although the average
age of a killer whale is 35.
Keiko was found suffering in a Mexican aquarium in 1993, and after his
rehabilitation at the OREGON COAST AQUARIUM he was airlifted to Iceland in
1998, where his handlers prepared him for life in the wild.
When he was released into the wild in July 2002 he swam to Norway,
seemingly in search of human companionship, and arrived at the Norwegian
village of Halsa in August 2002, where he allowed fans to pet and play with
When vets noticed Keiko was showing signs of lethargy recently, he was
given antibiotics - but NICK BRADEN, from the HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED
STATES, admits no one had any idea just how sick the animal was.
Braden says, "They really do die quickly and there was nothing we could
do. It's a really sad moment for us, but we do believe we gave him a chance to
be in the wild."
DAVID PHILLIPS, executive director of the FREE WILLY-KEIKO FOUNDATION,
said, "We took the hardest candidate and took him from near death in Mexico to
swimming with wild whales in Norway."