Roy E. Disney dies at 79

Influential shareholder worked as screenwriter, producer

Roy E. Disney, whose efforts to instill his will on the company co-founded by his father and uncle included the ousting of two CEOs and a renewed commitment to animation, died Wednesday, one month shy of his 80th birthday.

The nephew of Walt Disney and only child of Roy O. Disney died after a yearlong battle with stomach cancer at a hospital in Newport Beach, Calif. Funeral services will be private; plans for a "life celebration" will be announced.

HIs body will be cremated and ashes scattered at sea, a fitting tribute to a man with a passion for racing sailboats. In fact, the latest entry in a long list of movie and television credits dating to 1952 when he was an assistant editor on the "Dragnet" TV series, ends with "Morning Light," a documentary about sailing that he exec produced in 2008.

But Disney is best known as the primary agitator who, in an effort to prevent the company from veering too far from his uncle Walt's vision, helped to force CEO Ronald Miller from the company. Similar efforts two decades later ended in MIchael Eisner's resignation and set the stage for the Bob Iger era.

Roy E. Disney was born Jan. 10, 1930, seven years after Roy O. Disney and Walt Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, the precursor to the Walt Disney Co.

He joined the family business in 1953 as an assistant film editor and earned his first of two Oscar nominations six years later for "Mysteries of the Deep," a short film he wrote.

He was elected a board member in 1967 but resigned in part over differences with Miller, a particularly uncomfortable situation because Miller was married to Walt's daughter, Diane.

Miller, a pro football player with the Los Angeles Rams until Walt offered him a job at Disney, earned screen credits on several Disney films -- "Tron," "Escape to Witch Mountain," "That Darn Cat" -- before rising to CEO in 1983, several years after the co-founding brothers had died.

A year later, disgusted at the deterioration of the company's animation unit, Roy E. Disney quit the board, a dramatic move causing a chain reaction that culminated with Miller's resignation and the installation of Eisner and Frank Wells.

Roy returned as vice chairman and head of the animation department, where a sometimes strained relationship with Jeffrey Katzenberg produced a string of hits that included "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King."

His love of animation led him to serve on the board of trustees of California Institute of the Arts, the college in Valencia, Calif., founded by Walt Disney in the 1960s.

"I first met Roy when I was still an animation student at CalArts," said John Lasseter, now the chief creative officer at Disney and Pixar. "He was a great man who believed deeply in the art of animation. He put his heart and soul into preserving Disney's legendary past."

Don Hahn, and executive producer at Disney for 33 years, referred to Roy as "the coach, cheerleader, psychotherapist and biggest advocate" of Disney animation.

"He could have been a trust fund baby, but instead he kept his allegiance to not just Disney the company, but Disney the epic. And animation was its center," Hahn told THR. "He led a renaissance in animation at a time when it wasn't popular, and you see the results today in films like 'The Princess and the Frog.' "

In 2000, Roy's pet project was a sequel to the 1940 Disney animated film "Fantasia," called "Fantasia/2000." "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence from both films are the inspiration for Disney's upcoming live-action film that stars Nicolas Cage.

Roy again butted heads with Disney's CEO, this time Eisner, in 2003, when he learned that his board seat was in jeopardy. Roy and fellow director Stanley Gold, the president of Roy's investment firm Shamrock Holdings, both quit the board and began an ultimately successful campaign to oust Eisner.

On Wednesday, Gold described Roy as "steadfastly loyal to his principles" and unafraid to "make the tough decisions life sometimes requires."

After Eisner quit in 2006 and Iger was named CEO, Roy challenged Iger's promotion by suing, though he quickly abandoned the suit and accepted a consultancy position with the company along with the title "director emeritus."

Roy divorced his wife of 52 years Patty Daily in 2007. Before that, his wealth was estimated at $1.2 billion and he was the third-largest Disney shareholder (after Steve Jobs and Eisner).

He is survived by his wife Leslie DeMeuse-Disney, whom he married last year, and four children from his previous marriage: Tim Disney, Roy Patrick Disney, Abigail Disney and Susan Disney Lord.
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