Watching Free Willy as a kid made us all appreciate whales a little bit more than we did. We didn't realize what it was really like for the animals in those amusement parks, and while it was a fictional story, it was sad to see.
But luckily, Jesse was there to stop the evil plan that was put in place to drain Willy's tank so the amusement park owners could claim the $1 million insurance money. Jesse helps Willy escape, of course by using a super high jump that of course we all remember as the most iconic scene of the movie.
Even if you've never seen the movie, or if it has been a long time since you've seen it last, you absolutely will remember that scene.
The movie came out in 1993, so this year marks the 25th anniversary. Not only is it the 25th anniversary of Free Willy, but it's also been 25 years since the debut of the star of that movie, Jason James Richter.
Richter's very first role was in Free Willy, and he was up against over 4,000 actors for the part. He went through a long and arduous audition process, but obviously it was worth it.
The movie was a huge success and would actually go on to inspire two sequels, an animated series, and a spin off over a decade later.
But while we knew the fate of Willy, it's Richter that we are a lot more curious about. Where did the young star go after he was done saving whales from near death situations?
Richter was lucky to land his first role in such an awesome series. He starred in the first three Free Willy movies, but other than that you might struggle to think of anything he was in, but that doesn't mean he stopped acting.
After Free Willy 3: The Rescue, Richter filmed another two movies between 1997-1998. But after wrapping Ricochet River, he decided to take a step back.
In his 10 years away from Hollywood, Richter found that just by staying out of the spotlight he had accidentally spawned a bunch of rumors. “There were rumors that I got a face tattoo,” he said. “That I got into a car accident. That I became a drug addict. All this stuff. If you don’t tell them anything, people will just make up crap, even if the film is 20 years old.”
But it wasn't that dramatic at all.
“I had been on sets since I was 11 years old. I just needed a break.”
He instead focused on finding new hobbies, and his first stop was music. His parents had introduced him to Jimi Hendrix's music and he became obsessed with playing guitar. When he stepped away from acting, he decided to join the band Fermata as a bassist and tour the country.
"No one gave a crap that I was the kid from Free Willy."
“It was a kick to the shins, no doubt about it,” he says. “But the beauty of the experience for me was the autonomy. No one gave a crap that I was the kid from Free Willy. You’re not in some wispy fantasyland where everyone’s telling you ‘yes’ all the time, which happens a lot to actors. I was just one of the guys. It was all about whether your music was good.”
It wasn't until 2009 that he decided to dip his toe back in the acting world, when he guest starred on Bones and Criminal Minds, before deciding that he wanted to take a step behind the camera as well.
He started producing movies as well acting in them again, but nothing has been as huge of a hit as his performance in Free Willy. At least he remembers the experience fondly.
“I remember it being one of those moments of pure and utter fascination as a child.”
“You don’t see the danger. At 11 years old, you’re just like, ‘Oh my God, a whale! That’s amazing! This will be awesome!’" he said. "Had I been 17, I might have been like, ‘Hey, this thing is going to bite my hand off,’ but when you’re 11 you’re just like, ‘Oh, wow. Cool. Let me touch it.’”