Category: Entertainment Hits: 567Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney whose powerful behind-the-scenes influence on The Walt Disney Co. led to the departure of former chief Michael Eisner, has died. He was 79. The company announced that Disney died Wednesday in Newport Beach, Calif., after a yearlong bout with stomach cancer.
Company president and chief executive Bob Iger said Disney was much more than a valued 56-year company veteran. “Roy’s commitment to the art of animation was unparalleled and will always remain his personal legacy and one of his greatest contributions to Disney’s past, present and future,” Iger said in a statement.
Although he generally stayed out of the spotlight, Roy Disney didn’t hesitate to lead a successful campaign in 1984 to oust Walt Disney’s son-in-law after concluding he was leading the company in the wrong direction. Nearly 20 years later, he launched another successful shareholders revolt, this time against Eisner, the man he’d helped bring in after the previous ouster.
Born in 1930, Roy Disney had practically grown up with the company. His uncle Walt Disney and his father, Roy O. Disney, had co-founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio seven years before, later renaming it The Walt Disney Co.
While Walt was the company’s creative genius, his brother was the one in charge of the company’s finances. Starting in the 1950s, the younger Roy Disney worked for years in the family business as an editor, screenwriter and producer. Two short films he worked on were nominated for Academy Awards: the 1959 “Mysteries of the Deep,” which he wrote, was nominated as best live action short, and the 2003 film “Destino,” which he co-produced, was nominated as best animated short.
Despite his heritage, Roy Disney never got the chance to lead the company. But as an investor who grew his Disney stock into a billion-dollar fortune, he had a huge impact on the company’s destiny. In 1984, dissatisfied with the leadership Walt’s son-in-law Ron Miller was providing, Disney resigned from the company’s board of directors and sought investors to back a bid to install new management. (Miller was the husband of Diane Disney Miller, Roy’s cousin.) His efforts resulted in the hiring of Eisner and Frank Wells, who led the company as a team until Wells died in 1994.
During that time, Disney rejoined the board and rose to become the company’s vice chairman and chairman of its animation division. He also became a savvy investor over the years, forming Shamrock Holdings with his friend and fellow Disney board member Stanley Gold in 1978.
The fund grew to become a major investor in California real estate, the state of Israel and other entertainment and media companies. Gold, president of Shamrock Holdings and a friend of Disney for 35 years, described him as steadfastly loyal to his principles and his friends.
In his resignation letter, Disney called for Eisner’s ouster, complaining that on his watch the company’s standards had declined, particularly at theme parks like California’s Disneyland and Florida’s Walt Disney World. Initially rebuffed, Disney rallied small investors and enthusiasts who responded to his folksy complaints about peeling paint at the theme parks and his anger at being told he would have to leave the board because he was too old.
Shareholders eventually delivered an unprecedented rebuke to Eisner, withholding 45 percent of votes cast for his re-election to the board. The chief executive was later stripped of his role as board chairman and announced his retirement in 2005, a year before his contract was up.
“It’s kind of hard to imagine us without him,” said school president Steven D. Lavine, citing Disney’s unflagging support. In 1999, he matched a gift from The Walt Disney Co. to establish an experimental theater space as part of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He named the theater for his parents.
In 2005, Disney pledged $10 million to establish the Roy and Patricia Disney Cancer Center at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
Culled from Vanity Fair