Roy E. Disney Dead at 79

Companies and CorporationsEntertainmentDeathManagement ChangeThe Walt Disney Co.Shareholders

LOS ANGELES -- Roy E. Disney, the son and nephew of The WaltDisney Co. founders who twice led shareholder revolts that shook upthe family business, died Wednesday.

He was 79.

The Walt Disney Co. announced that Disney died in Newport Beach,Calif., after a bout with stomach cancer.

Although he generally stayed out of the spotlight, Roy Disneydidn't hesitate to lead a successful campaign in 1984 to oust WaltDisney's son-in-law after concluding he was leading the company inthe wrong direction.

Nearly 20 years later, he launched another successfulshareholders revolt, this time against Michael Eisner, the man he'dhelped bring in after the previous ouster.

Disney, born in 1930, had practically grown up with the company.His uncle Walt Disney and his father, Roy O. Disney, had co-foundedthe Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio seven years before, laterrenaming it The Walt Disney Co.

Two years before he was born, the company gave birth to itsiconic cartoon character, Mickey Mouse.

While Walt was the company's creative genius, his brother was the one in charge of thecompany's finances.

Starting in the 1950s, the younger Roy Disney worked for yearsin the family business as an editor, screenwriter and producer. Twoshort films he worked on were nominated for Academy Awards: the1959 "Mysteries of the Deep," which he wrote, was nominated asbest live action short, and the 2003 film "Destino," which heco-produced, was nominated as best animated short.

Despite his heritage, Roy Disney never got the chance to leadthe company as his father and uncle had.

But as an investor whogrew his Disney stock into a billion-dollar fortune, he ultimatelyhad a huge impact on the company's destiny.

In 1984, dissatisfied with the leadership Walt's son-in-law RonMiller was providing, Disney resigned from the company's board ofdirectors and sought investors to back a bid to install newmanagement. (Miller was the husband of Diane Disney Miller, Roy'scousin.)

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 becomethe company's vice chairman and chairman of its animation division,where he helped oversee the making of such hit films as 1994's"The Lion King."

He also became a savvy investor over the years, forming ShamrockHoldings with his friend and fellow Disney board member StanleyGold in 1978.

The fund grew to become a major investor inCalifornia real estate, the state of Israel and other entertainmentand media companies.

In 2007, Forbes magazine ranked him as the 754th richest personin the world and estimated his fortune at $1.3 billion.

He was noton the list in subsequent years.

In his spare time he bought a castle in Ireland and indulged hispassion for yacht racing, setting several speed records. For yearshe was a fixture at the Transpacific Yacht Race between Californiaand Hawaii.

After years of dissatisfaction with Eisner's leadership and thecompany's lagging stock price, Disney and Gold resigned their boardseats in 2003 and launched a shareholder revolt.

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 andFlorida's Walt Disney World.

"The Walt Disney Company deserves fresh, energetic leadershipat this challenging time in its history just as it did in 1984 whenI headed a restructuring which resulted in your recruitment to thecompany," Disney wrote to Eisner.

Initially rebuffed, Disney rallied small investors andenthusiasts who responded to his folksy complaints about peelingpaint at the theme parks and his anger at being told he would haveto leave the board because he was too old.

"One of the reasons for my leaving, other than the fact thatthey fired me, was that I saw that quality slipping away from us,"Disney told a 2004 meeting of memorabilia collectors.

Slowly, Disney built support for his cause, and at the company'sannual shareholders meeting in 2004 he received a standing ovation.

Shareholders eventually delivered an unprecedented rebuke toEisner, withholding 45 percent of votes cast for his re-election tothe board.

The chief executive was later stripped of his role as boardchairman and announced his retirement in 2005, a year before hiscontract was up.

Disney initially opposed Eisner's successor, Robert Iger, butthey reconciled and in 2005 Iger named Disney a board memberemeritus and welcomed him back to company events.

Born in Los Angeles on Jan. 10, 1930, Roy Edward Disney was Royand Edna Disney's only child. As an adult, he often wore amustache, which gave him a striking resemblance to his legendaryuncle.

After graduating from Pomona College in 1951, he briefly workedat NBC as an assistant editor on the "Dragnet" TV series.

After joining Disney, he worked on a series of live action shortfeatures, including "The Living Desert" and "The VanishingPrairie."

Disney was also an active philanthropist, supporting theCalifornia Institute of the Arts in Valencia, a school founded byhis father and uncle.

In 1999, he matched a gift from The Walt Disney Co. to establishan experimental theater space as part of the Walt Disney ConcertHall in Los Angeles. The theater was named the Roy and EdnaDisney-CalArts Theater or Redcat.

In 2005, he pledged $10 million to establish the Roy andPatricia Disney Cancer Center at Providence St. Joseph MedicalCenter in Burbank.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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