Ron W. Miller, a former USC football star who married a daughter of Walt Disney and later became CEO of the Burbank entertainment giant, died Saturday. He was 85.
Miller passed away in Napa, where he owned Silverado Vineyards. He served as president and later chief executive of Disney from 1978 until 1984, when he was pushed out in a power struggle that left Frank Wells and Michael Eisner in charge of the company.
“Everyone at The Walt Disney Co. is deeply saddened by the passing of Ron Miller,” said company Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger, in a statement. “His life and legacy are inextricably linked with our Company and the Disney family because he was such a vital part of both, as our CEO and Walt’s son-in-law.”
The company credited him as being a driving force behind such initiatives as Epcot Center, Touchstone Pictures and the Disney Channel. “Miller helped navigate a difficult period of change, laying the foundation for a broader revenue base to support Walt’s vision for decades to come,” the statement said.
Miller married into the Disney clan after meeting Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane, on a blind date when she was 20 and he was 21 and a member of the USC football team, according to a company blog post.
The couple married in 1954 and Miller served in the Army and later played for the Los Angeles Rams before he came to work at Walt Disney Studios in 1957. Miller’s first job was serving as an assistant on the classic movie “Old Yeller.”
Miller was named president in 1978 and chief executive in 1983. He was forced out in 1984, a difficult year during which Disney was facing a hostile takeover bid from Wall Street raider Saul Steinberg and his Reliance Group Holdings.
The Disney board voted in June 1984 to buy out Steinberg’s 11% share for $325 million — earning the raider a nearly $60 million profit — but later faced shareholder lawsuits accusing directors of violating their fiduciary duty by agreeing to the deal. Disney and Steinberg settled the case in 1989 by paying $45 million to shareholders.
After leaving the company, Miller moved with his wife to the Napa Valley to run Silverado Vineyards. Later, the couple helped establish the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio area of San Francisco. He served on its board of directors and became president in 2013.
Miller is survived by his children Christopher Miller, Joanna Miller, Tamara Diane Miller, Jennifer Goff, Walter Elias Disney Miller, Ronald Miller and Patrick Miller, and 17 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His wife, Diane, died in 2013.
Donations may be made to a memorial fund that Disney Family Museum has established in honor of the couple. Donations will support the museum’s ongoing education efforts.