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Daily Mirror
Mollie Quirk

Where Free Willy cast are now – prison stint, Bond role and tragic fate of killer whale

Free Willy catapulted onto cinema screens in America 30 years ago! We know, we can't believe it either.

The Warner Brothers' flick then fast-becoming a staple in childhoods for generations past, present and future.

Starring a young Jason James Richter as the leading role of Jesse, a young orphan who gets caught vandalising, the movie is much-loved around the world.

In the heart-warming film, Jesse is told to work at a theme park as a punishment for being a vandal, but he soon turns everything around.

Forming a very strong bond with an orca whale named Willy, Jesse soon makes it his mission to help the young orca and free him back into the wild ocean.

The movie grossed a whopping $153.7 million, which came from a $20 million budget to make the film.

Reuniting in 2013, the cast last met up for the 20th anniversary - but where are they 30 years on?

Young Tearaway Jesse

Jason James Richter played the role of Jesse in the hit film and went on to star in all three Free Willy films.

His character was the starring role, with him befriending Willy, teaching him tricks and then forging a plan to release him into the wild and away from his captive life.

Jason played the role of a young boy named Jesse, who befriended Willy and taught him tricks (Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

After his Free Willy stint, Jason continued to act up until he was 18, with him popping up in the lives of The NeverEnding Story III, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and hit kids show Rugrats.

But in 2015, Jason returned to the screen in Last Rampage, The Brawler and comedy-drama Last Call.

The Jesse actor's life took a turn in 2018 though, with him having a short stint in prison.

After being arrested in connection to domestic violence, Jason was sentenced to four days in jail and was issued a 36-month probation period back in 2018.

The charges were dropped, telling Page Six: "After having the domestic violence charges against me dropped due to inconsistencies in my ex’s story and no evidence to support her claims, I was hoping to move forward from this awful situation."

His most recent TV credit was in 2014 when he starred in Life's a Pitch, and his most recent film credit is from 2021 when he starred in The Little Things and Last Call.

Not much is known about Jason's personal life or romances, with those aspects of his life kept under wraps and out of the public eye.

Marine Biologist Rae

Tennessee-born actress Lori Petty played the role of Rae Lindley in the heartwarming movie, with her character forming a close bond with Jesse.

Prior to her role in the Free Willy films, Lori starred in Point Break, A League of Their Own and Tank Girl, with her list of TV and film credits ongoing up until present day.

Lori Petty went on to star in Orange is the New Black (lori_petty/Instagram)

But following her Free Willy stint, Lori went on to land some massive roles that have led to her being well-known and loved in the 2020s, with her starring in Prison Break and Netflix's Orange Is The New Black.

Her most recent credits are listed as You're All Gonna Die, a film in post-production and a TV programme Station Eleven.

Lori's love life has mostly been kept under wraps, although her romance with David Alan Grier in 1994 was well-documented back in the day.

Jesse's Foster Mum Annie Greenwood

Jayne Atkinson played the role of Jesse's foster mum in the movie, with the British actress remaining firmly in the film and TV industries since.

Annie Greenwood was played by Jayne Atkinson in the hit film (Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

In recent years she has starred in House of Cards as U.S. Secretary of State Catherine Durant, with her real life husband Michael Gill also starring in the show and playing the role of President Garrett Walker – however the pair were not romantically involved.

She welcomed her son when she was 40 and took a short break from acting, but now in her 60s, she has starred in Baby Ruby and Clarice.

The starlet was born in Bournemouth, England, and has remained married to her husband Michael since they married in 1998. Jayne has one child.

Jesse's Foster Dad Glen Greenwood

Prior to starring as Jesse's foster dad in Free Willy, Michael Madsen was known for popping up in iconic movie Reservoir Dogs.

An actor previously enlisted by Quentin Tarantino, he also starred in Kill Bill and Hateful Eight, with him starring in another huge franchise, too.

Before Free Willy Michael Madsen starred in Reservoir Dogs (Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

The actor, who has five children, once had a small part in the James Bond movie Die Another Day alongside Pierce Brosnan.

Michael was married three times, with him sadly losing a sun of suspected suicide last year.

Following his son's death, Michael was arrested for trespassing at a lavish pad in Malibu after being evicted, according to reports.

According to Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department records, as per Entertainment Tonight, the actor was given a $500 citation for a misdemeanour and released shortly after.

Villainous Dial

Dial was portrayed by Michael Ironside, with the character being the main villain in the movie.

In the hit film, when Willy gets sold to the Northwest Adventure Park after being captured from the wild, Dial - who owns the park - decides to make money off the orca.

But when he sees that Jesse can teach Willy tricks, he comes up with a plan to make more money.

Michael, who portrayed Mr Dial, is a Canadian actor who has long played villains throughout his career.

Aside from starring in Free Willy, Michael has starred in many movies like Total Recall, Scanners, Turbo Kid and Visiting Hours.

He married Karen Dinwiddie in 1986 and they welcomed one daughter together in 1998, with him also having another daughter from a previous marriage.

Michael has endured several health issues throughout his life, but has survived three different types of cancer: bowel, prostate and thyroid.

Dial's right-hand man Wade

In the much-loved flick, Wade is Dial's right hand man and secondary antagonist in Free Willy.

Richard Riehle is a renowned actor who has long sported a grey mustache.

Richard has long been known for sporting a thick grey mustache (Getty Images)

Aside from portraying a villainous character in Free Willy, Richard has also starred in Office Space, Ally McBeal and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.

He has also appeared in Ally McBeal, The Fugitive, Lethal Weapon 4, and the horror flick Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.

Not much is known about his personal life apart from the fact that he has been married to Jane Lantham since 1970.

Cop Dwight Mercer

Mykelti Williamson played policeman Dwight in Free Willy, but the star is probably best known for playing Bubba in hit flick Forrest Gump, alongside Tom Hanks.

The Free Willy star has long had a glowing career an an actor, with film credits in Final Destination and The Purge, as well as Fences, Heat and Clean.

Back in 1998, Mykelti was acquitted of manslaughter after being accused of stabbing Leroy Edwards, a companion of his ex-wife Cheryl Chisolm.

The esteemed actor, who hasn't slowed down since his Free Willy days, has been married three times, with him remaining with Sondra Spriggs ever since they tied the knot.

Whale Trainer Randolph

Dad-of-three August Werner Schellenberg was a Canadian actor who played whale trainer Randolph in the first three installments of the Free Willy film franchise.

August Schellenberg played the role of the whale trainer in the hit film, but he sadly died a decade ago (Getty Images)

Prior to Free Willy he starred in Black Robe, and after his stint in the film franchise he starred in Dreamkeeper and True Heart, as well as The New World.

But August sadly died in 2013, almost a decade ago, with him passing away after battling lung cancer.

The esteemed actor was married and had three children, all of whom he was survived by when he died aged 77.

The Main Character... Willy

Unlike the special effects that grace our screens today, back when Free Willy came out, a real whale took on the role of the orca.

Keiko was the real-life whale who played WIlly (Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

Keiko was the name of the real-life whale who played Willy, with the gorgeous whale born in Iceland in 1976.

The whale's backstory was very similar to that of Willy's, with him held in captivity and forced to perform prior to being returned to the wild.

In 2002, he became the first captive orca to be fully released back into the ocean when he was flown back to Iceland.

But due to the way in which Keiko had been surrounded by humans, he wasn't keen on the killer whales that surrounded him in the wild.

The beloved whale sadly died 20 years ago back in 2003, which his death reported and determined as pneumonia.

Keiko was 27 when he died, and at the time was in Taknes Bay, Norway.

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