Underweight and ailing, Keiko lived a meager existence at a Mexico City theme park. After the film’s huge success, activists campaigned and were able to relocate Keiko to a rehab tank on the Oregon coast, where trainers taught the killer whale the ways of the wild, hoping to free him for real.
The results did not end up picture-perfect like the movie. Keiko, who died in 2003, did end up spending his last years in the wild, but not among other killer whales. Keiko died in Norway after becoming a popular fixture for the people living in a small fishing village.
RetroReport.org made a short film about the journey… take a look.