What Ever Happened to That ‘Free Willy’ Kid?

23 Years Later

With everyone’s favorite little-90s-movie-that-could, Free Willy, turning 23 this year, you might be wondering what the film’s star has been doing over all these years. Sure, this instant classic about a boy and his orca friend, Willy, has inspired plenty of kids to learn about the ocean. But did it have the same effect on Jason? Let’s see what he’s been up to!

Jason Richter on Set

Source: Instagram @jason_james_richter

Love the movie? Click through to see Jason now!


Jason Richter and Keiko - Free Willy Screen Cap

Credit: Warner Brothers Family Entertainment

Jason James Richter was completely unknown when he was cast to star in a small kids’ movie about a boy named Jesse and his friend Willy, an orca whale, held in captivity. Free Willy went on to smash industry expectations, earning over $76 million at the box office. The success of the film spawned two sequels and catapulted it’s young star into instant fame. After his success in Free Willy, Richter went on to star in other films like The Neverending Story III and guest-star on popular television shows like Sabrina: The Teenage Witch.

Keiko, the Orca Whale

Richter and Keiko in Tank - Free Willy

Credit: Warner Brothers Family Entertainment

Despite the decades that have passed, Richter remembers the awe of meeting Keiko, the orca that played Willy. Although orcas can be very violent animals, he recalls being eager to swim and play with his co-star. Had he been older, he might have been frightened by the whale, but he said “when you’re 11 you’re just like, ‘Oh, wow. Cool. Let me touch it.'” His comfort with Keiko must have really showed—the pair earned a “Best Kiss” nomination at the 1993 MTV Movie Awards.

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