Roy Edward Disney, son of Disney Studios co-founder Roy O. Disney, and nephew of Walt Disney, passed away today (12/16/09) at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California, following a year-long battle with stomach cancer. He was 79 years old. Disney was a successful businessman, philanthropist, filmmaker, and award-winning sailor, who played a key role in the revitalization of The Walt Disney Company and Disney’s animation legacy. He was associated with the Company over a 56-year period, and from 1984 – 2003, served as vice chairman of the Company’s board of directors, and chairman of the Studio’s Animation Department. In recent years, he held the title of director emeritus and consultant for the Company.
As head of Disney Animation, Disney helped to guide the Studio to a new golden age of animation with an unprecedented string of artistic and box office successes that included “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.” He personally executive produced “Fantasia/2000,” a sequel to the 1940 Disney classic, and served in a similar capacity on a number of recent animated shorts, including the 2004 Oscar®-nominated “Destino,” based on storyboards and original art by the iconic artist Salvador Dali. In the area of live-action films, Disney and his wife, Leslie DeMeuse Disney, most recently executive produced the 2008 feature documentary, “Morning Light,” which followed a group of young sailors as they competed in the grueling Transpac race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
His philanthropic activities included sponsorship of the Roy E. Disney Center for the Performing Arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center, part of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, is scheduled to open in spring, 2010. Commenting on the announcement, Bob Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said, “On behalf of everyone at Disney, we are saddened by the loss of our friend and colleague Roy E. Disney. He was much more than a valued 56-year Company veteran – Roy’s true passion and focus were preserving and building upon the amazing legacy of Disney animation that was started by his father and uncle. 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.”
John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, added, “I first met Roy when I was still an animation student at CalArts. Not only did I consider him a personal friend, but 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, while helping to move the art of animation into the modern age by embracing new technology. Roy was a visionary and passionate supporter of the art form, and he was all about quality. I was always impressed that he would make time for someone like me when I was fresh out of college, and he continued to support and encourage me throughout my career.”
Stanley Gold, president, Shamrock Holdings, said, “Roy and I enjoyed a 35-year friendship and partnership that was simply special. We faced many business challenges together, had fun in the process, and enjoyed a wide variety of professional successes. Roy was a man who was steadfastly loyal to his principles and to his friends. He was a gracious, humble gentleman who could make the tough decisions life sometimes requires. He carried the torch high and proud, and the world is a better place for his tireless efforts. I will miss him greatly.
Roy Edward Disney was born in Los Angeles on January 10, 1930 to Roy O. Disney and Edna Francis Disney. His father and his uncle, Walt Disney, co-founded the Disney entertainment business in 1923.
After attending Harvard School and Pomona College, Disney launched his entertainment industry career in 1952, working as an assistant film editor on the “Dragnet” TV series.
He joined The Walt Disney Studios in 1953 as an assistant film editor, where his credits included the landmark Academy Award®-winning True-Life Adventures features, “The Living Desert” and “The Vanishing Prairie.” As a writer and production associate, he received Oscar® nominations for his work on the short subject, “Mysteries of the Deep” in 1959, and in 2003 for his work as executive producer for “Destino.”
Disney produced and directed some 35 other TV and theatrical production, including the landmark 1968 documentary, “Varda, the Peregrine Falcon,” before leaving in 1977 to become an independent producer and investor.
In 1978, Disney founded Shamrock Holdings, Inc., a wholly-owned family enterprise headquartered in Burbank, California, which specializes in private equity, real estate, and public equities investing. He served as chairman of the company, which has approximately $1.5 billion of capital committed to funds.
An avid competitive sailor, Disney holds several elapsed-time records for offshore races in the Pacific Ocean, including multiple wins in the 2,225-mile Transpac.
Among his many professional and philanthropic activities, Disney served on the board of trustees of California Institute of the Arts, the advisory board of St. Joseph Medical Center, and the board of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, Inc. Additionally, he was an advisory member of the board of directors of the United States Committee for UNICEF, chairman emeritus of the board of directors of the Peregrine Fund, a member of the board of trustees of Ronald McDonald House charities, and a member of the board of trustees of the American Ireland Fund.
In 1993, he received the Winsor McCay Award (a special “Annie Award”) from ASIFA-Hollywood (The International Animated Film Society). The McCay Award is for lifetime achievement in animation. In 1997, Disney was awarded the first “Mort Walker Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cartoon Industry,” by the Boca Raton International Museum of Cartoon Art.
Disney received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from his alma mater Pomona College in 1998. In 2002, he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Mercy College in New York. The following year, he was presented with the Trustees’ Award and honorary Doctor of the Arts degree from CalArts.
Among his other honors, Disney was named a recipient of the 1999 National Catholic Education Association Elizabeth Ann Seton Award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to children and education. In April 1999, Disney received the Henry Bergh Humane Award from the ASPCA, and in spring 2000, he was awarded the Inaugural Environmental Leadership Award from the Audubon Society.
Disney is survived by his wife, Leslie, and four children from his marriage to Patricia Dailey Disney – Tim Disney, Roy Patrick Disney, Abigail Disney, and Susan Disney Lord. He is also survived by 16 grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private, followed by cremation. His ashes will be scattered at sea. Plans for a Life Celebration will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to CISA (California International Sailing Association, www.cisasailing.org) to benefit youth sailing.