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Disney animator’s coronavirus-related death is third at motion picture retirement home

 The Motion Picture and Television Fund's nursing home in Woodland Hills.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A famed Disney animator has become the third resident of the Motion Picture and Television Fund skilled-nursing facility in Woodland Hills to die from complications related to the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, 16 residents and eight staff have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Ann Sullivan, 91, a veteran Disney artist, died Monday. Her death follows those of actor Allen Garfield, 80, and John Breier, 64, both of whom died last week after being hospitalized, according to MPTF officials.

Ten residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were being treated in a special isolation unit within the retirement village and medical facility. The facility first reported a resident had tested positive March 31 and then six more on April 3. According to officials, eight of the staff who are primary caregivers have also tested positive on the Wasserman campus, where about 250 retirees from the entertainment industry live.

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Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director, went so far last week as to suggest it would be “perfectly appropriate” to move loved ones out of such locations to protect their health.

The Woodland Hills facility, which provides both independent living and long-term care, had already been under shelter-in-place orders for nearly a month. Hospitality staff have been delivering meals directly to residents’ doors, communal gatherings have been canceled, and essential employees are receiving daily temperature checks.

Older people and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk for contracting the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 120 nursing and communal-living facilities in Los Angeles County are already dealing with infections.

Last week, Bob Beitcher, chief executive of the MPTF, in a blunt message to residents via their closed-circuit TV channel told them to “stay the ... home” after learning that one had gone to CVS to get a prescription and another to a bank.

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After studying at the Art Center in Pasadena, Sullivan, of Fargo, N.D., landed a job at Walt Disney in the animation paint lab in the early 1950s. After a work hiatus — Sullivan was starting a family of four children — in 1973 she joined Filmation Hanna-Barbera before going to the Walt Disney Studios. There she painted and inked such Disney classics as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” and “Lilo & Stitch.” The veteran animator made the switch to computerized animated production at Disney before her retirement in the early 2000s.

“We called her Giggles at MPTF. You couldn’t help but fall in love with her laugh,” Chaplain Dina Kuperstock said. “She had the best laugh of any person I’ve ever known. Ann didn’t just laugh with a sound. When she giggled, her whole body would shake and light up with joy, and it was contagious for everyone in the room.”

In a statement, the MPTF said Sullivan enjoyed frequent walks. Her daughter Shannon described her in a statement as a “beach” mom. She took her children, grandchildren and friends to the beach at every opportunity. Sullivan loved the sun.

Friday was Sullivan’s 91st birthday, and staff connected her with family and friends through FaceTime so they could express their love and admiration. Shannon said of her: “My mom had a great sense of humor, was extremely positive, and touched everyone who was lucky enough to meet her. She loved to have a good time.”

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Times staff writer Amy Kaufman contributed to this story.


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