Walt Disney's Daughter, Diane Disney Miller, Dies at 79

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She was instrumental in keeping architect Frank Gehry on the job for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

Diane Disney Miller, the daughter of Walt Disney and a force in making sure architect Frank Gehry completed the Los Angeles concert hall that bears her father’s name, died Tuesday at her home in Napa, Calif., after suffering a recent fall. She was 79.

Miller was the only biological daughter of Disney and his wife, Lillian Bounds Disney. Her sister, Sharon Mae, who was adopted by the Disneys at birth in 1936, died in 1993.

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Her husband of 59 years, Ron W. Miller, was CEO of the Walt Disney Co. until 1984, when he was ousted in favor of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells in a move supported by her cousin, Roy E. Disney.

In 1997, Diane Disney Miller insisted that Gehry be kept on the job as planning was well underway for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Project leaders believed Gehry’s firm was too inexperienced to execute the drawings for the hall’s all-curves design and wanted another company to complete the plans. The architect wanted no part of that.

Miller, however, said the $20 million left from her mother’s original gift could not be used unless Gehry’s firm remained in charge.

“She was the turning point, definitely,” Gehry told the Los Angeles Times in September. “I was devastated. I had left the project, and in the next day or two, I got the call” that Miller had made the crucial decision not to go forward without him. “She’s an amazing lady and continues to be — for the project, for classical music and for the arts.”

“I wanted something that would bear my father's name, that would come from his wealth but not be commercial,” Miller told the Times. “That would be just a wonderful thing for the city, for the spirit, for the soul. I think we achieved that. When I say we — Frank has achieved that.”

Miller also was the founder and head of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Diane Disney Miller, and our thoughts are with her family during his difficult time,” Disney president and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement.

“As the beloved daughter of Walt Disney and one of his inspirations for creating Disneyland, she holds a special place in the history of the Walt Disney Company and in the hearts of fans everywhere. She will be remembered for her grace and generosity and tireless work to preserve her father’s legacy, and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”

In addition to her husband, survivors include seven children.