Disney Sought Keith Haring Collaboration Shortly Before His Death, New BiographyReveals

The studio proposed a project that would include “Mickey Mouse as seen through the eyes of Keith Haring.”

For a good chunk of his career, Keith Haring exhibited a fascination with the cartoons of Walt Disney, scrawling images of Mickey Mouse on the walls of New York subways and clubs during the 1980s. Though Haring’s renderings of the cartoon were not necessarily given the Disney blessing, it turns out there very nearly was a Disney/Haring collaboration during the artist’s lifetime.

In his new book Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring, due out early next month, biographer Brad Gooch reveals that Haring did, in fact, receive a letter from Walt Disney Studios as he lay dying of AIDS-related causes in 1990. Although word of the letter was reported as early as 1997 by critic Ingrid Sischy, details of the proposal were not widely accessible until now.

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The letter, Gooch reports, arrived during Haring’s final days, as he received oxygen via tanks and IV fluids via drips set up in his New York apartment. According to the biography, Disney sought a collaboration with Haring—something the artist had long desired. Specifically, Haring was being solicited for a project that would entail “Mickey Mouse as seen through the eyes of Keith Haring,” according to Gooch.

Julia Gruen, a close friend of Haring and the current executive director of his foundation, read the letter to the artist, who by this point was moving in and out of lucidity. But Haring did not believe the letter to be real, and so he disregarded it—not that an official collaboration with Disney would have been possible in his state. Gooch writes that Haring dismissed the letter, believing that Gruen had merely been trying to trick him in an attempt to ease some of his pain.

Posthumously, however, the Disney/Haring project did end up coming together.

In 2021, the Keith Haring Foundation and Disney teamed up, producing Swatch watches, Uniqlo T-shirts, Coach bags, and more emblazoned with the artist’s paintings of Mickey Mouse. It was the first time that the two had ever officially worked together, and they marketed the project as a fulfillment of Haring’s childhood goal of becoming Walt Disney himself.

“By collaborating with Disney, we are able to bring his artwork to life through a new medium and continue to celebrate his enduring influence on the art community and future generations to come,” the foundation said when the collaboration was announced in 2020.

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