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Monday, December 15, 2003
Six Tons Under
Keiko the Killer Whale died Friday of pneumonia. The 26 year old film star launched an immensely successful career with the surprise 1993 hit film Free Willy. But the success would prove fatal. The orca who leapt over an aquatic fence to the top of the world and into the public's heart went on a binge the likes of which no mammal had ever seen. This is the true story of that giant mammal who killed us all with his love for a young boy. Keiko, the E! True Hollywood Story.

After several years working as a stunt mammal on Jaws 3-D and The Abyss, Keiko got his break while vacationing in Mexico City. Simon Wincer, the much-heralded director of the Tom Selleck classic, Quigley Down Under: "I glimpsed that magnificent beast sunning himself in a lagoon just south of Acapulco. I had this vision of the gentle giant befriending a sad little boy, and the movie was born." That film would make Keiko a very rich fish-eater.

Things started out pleasantly enough as Keiko received a lucrative endorsement deal performing at SeaWorld, which left him fin-deep in herring and wet-suited humans. But constantly being mistaken for his on-screen character took its toll on this titanic actor. After repeated instances of inappropriate sexual advances on customers and aquarium staff, the fun-loving six-ton creature struck out on his own in 1998 to record an album of "songs of the sea." His hope of capitalizing on the trend of nature sounds of the late-90s were dispatched when his debut album, Willy or Wonty?, was panned by Entertainment Weekly as "the self-absorbed emotional ejaculation of a has-been film star." Keiko swam deep into a sea of despair.

Fueled by an addiction to plankton and herring, Keiko became a regular in the celebrity scene, splashing the tabloids in New York and L.A. with such notable hook-ups as Paris Hilton and Colin Farrell. But charges in 2001 of unlawful sexual touching of a baby seal brought him to a new low. He was broke, facing scores of paternity suits from extras in Whale Rider, and now serious jail time. Keiko had hit rock bottom.

His attorneys brokered a plea bargain that sent him to rehab in Norway, away from the party lights of New York and L.A. After drying out, his appearance on Hollywood Sqaures caught the attention of Hollywood moguls, and before long he was signed to remake the 1977 suspense classic Orca. "I was really looking forward to working with him," said Bo Derek, who would reprise her role as the whale's love interest.

But all that came to a crashing halt last Friday. So long, Keiko, an enormous Hollywood legend.

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