‘Jesse’ from ‘Free Willy’ is now 42 years old and still works as an actor

'Free Willy' taught us all about love, friendship, and the underwater world.


Free Willy became a high-grossing film widely loved by the audience, and the reasons for that were plenty. This masterpiece, which turned into a classic, taught us all about love, friendship, and the underwater world. At the same time, it raised awareness of wild animals held in captivity, thus melted the hearts of millions of people worldwide. The film grew into a franchise, with a television series and two sequels.

The role of the orphaned boy, Jesse, who befriended the orca was played by child actor Jason James Richter.

This young boy turned into a star almost overnight and received plenty of awards, including the Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film.

Speaking of the enormous success and the celeb status he earned, Richter told IconvsIcon in 2018, ”I had no clue. It was my first film and I never had any idea of if it would be a success or not. It was amazing to make! Like I said, it was my first film and when you are a kid, you don’t see any of the ugly stuff that happens on set and it’s a positive experience. Everybody who worked on that movie was great and I have totally fond memories of them.”

With his mom being an actress herself, it was natural for Richter to follow into her footsteps. He was never forced into anything, acting was simply something he loved and dreamed of ever since he was just a child. “I’ve been watching these people do this. I know all these words, so I could do that too!” he recalled telling his mom one day.

When he auditioned for the role of Jesse, there were around 4000 children his age who wanted it as well. But Richter was something special. Producer Lauren Shuler-Donner, who cast the unknown Richter, said in 1995, “He’s a young Steve McQueen.”

Meeting Keiko, the orca which played Willy, for the first time was something Richter could never forget. “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!’ 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,’” Richter told Daily Beast in 2013.

Once the movie was released, millions of people donated to the Save the Whales Foundation, whose number was shown on the credits list, and $20 million were raised.

Richter, who became a teen star, moved on to other projects, including guest appearances on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” “Rugrats” and “The Client.”

However, after appearing in Free Willy 3: The Rescue, he decided to leave Hollywood because he felt that he needed a break. He was 18 at the time.

Richter turned to music and performed with various bands before joining Fermata as a bassist.

However, as years went by, he felt nostalgic about acting and guest-starred on “Bones” and ”Criminal Minds.”

In 2013, Richter had his directorial debut with the short film “The Quiet Loud.” He loves working behind the cameras as much as he wants to be in front of it.

In 2017, the actor landed a role in “Last Rampage,” an American crime drama film. Most recently, he starred in “The Little Things,” and “Last Call.”

Richter, who is now 42 years old, runs a podcast together with Dustin Burford, “The Richter Scale,” where they discuss ”random crap from around the world.” He has a net worth of $500,000.

Reaching stardom as such a young age isn’t always easy, but Richer did know how to handle his fame and is still doing what he loves, and that’s being part of the film industry.

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