December 17, 2009 in Nation/World

Roy E. Disney, major figure in uncle’s company, dies at 79

Sandy Cohen Associated Press
 

Disney
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES – Roy 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.

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.

Don Hahn, an executive producer at the Disney movie studio, credited Roy Disney with ushering in a new era after taking over the animation department in 1984. Together, they helped make such blockbusters as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”

“He took it under his wing, was a cheerleader, a coach, therapist,” Hahn said.

John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, also lauded Disney.

“He put his heart and soul into preserving Disney’s legendary past, while helping to move the art of animation into the modern age by embracing new technology,” Lasseter said.

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.

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