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Roy Disney's death, today at 79, silences passionate advocate for animation arts

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Published: December 16, 2009 at 12:59 PM

Roy E. Disney really did help save Disney.

Roy E. DisneyAt a crucial moment in the history of the Walt Disney Company, Walt's nephew stepped forward to demand a change in leadership, one that ultimately led to a new management team and promising new creative initiatives.

Roy Disney died today in Newport Beach, at the age 79, after a battle with stomach cancer.

A passionate friend of Disney's animation division, Roy served the company as a director and internal advocate. He left active work within the company in the mid-1970s, to be brought back into the fold when Michael Eisner arrived as CEO in the early 1980s. Focusing on the animation division, his push for resources paid off as the company turned out a string of hits in the late 80s and early 1990s.

Eventually, his relationship with Eisner soured, and after Disney management didn't list him for renomination to the company's board, Roy in 2003 joined the PR war against the Eisner administration.

In the early years of this decade, online fans and critics were railing against the Eisner administration, following cutbacks in show quality, attraction development and staffing at the Disney theme parks. Two fatal accidents at Disneyland, the first to be the fault of the company, also brought severe criticism.

Still, many Disney fans continued to lap up whatever the company served, and a bubble-inflated economy fattened Disney's bottom-line. But with Walt's nephew now joining the critics, some institutional investors began to question the company's leadership. Eventually, Eisner left the company, handing leadership to Robert Iger, Eisner's designated successor.

Roy fought the Iger appointment, but later returned to the company. Despite Roy's initial opposition to the Iger appointment, I think Roy deserves credit for helping force the series of events that led to it. Eisner's departure cleared much of the internal acrimony that was sapping the company's progress. And under Iger's leadership, the Walt Disney Company repaired its fractured relationship with Pixar and brought Pixar's John Lasseter into Disney's leadership, which revived Roy's beloved animation division.

Roy also advocated Disney's recent return to nature films, and served as a long-time supporter of Walt's beloved Cal Arts. Without Roy's actions in 2003-5, I believe that the Eisner administration would have held on longer, with more damage to the company's reputation, internal talent development and long-term creative direction, as a result.

On a selfish note, though I never had the pleasure of meeting Roy individually, he was a good friend to Theme Park Insider, including it among the nine websites linked from the original "Save Disney" website. That helped raise TPI's profile among theme park critics at the time, connecting us with several friends are as passionate about promoting high quality and great value in the industry as we are.

Readers' Opinions

From Stephen Landsman on December 16, 2009 at 1:04 PM
Truly sad news.
From Joshua Counsil on December 16, 2009 at 1:20 PM
Terrible. This is very sad. I was hoping to sign on to TPI to read some good news.

Here's to the family and friends.

From Anthony Murphy on December 16, 2009 at 1:46 PM
Its very sad!

Is there anybody else left in the Disney family or was he the last "Disney". I know that Walt's Daughter is still alive, but her last name is not Disney.

From what I see, he was battling stomach cancer for awhile so it was not sudden as I feared before. He was also near 80 which makes the point of how old Roy sr. and Walt really were. Walt was in his mid 50s when Disneyland opened.

Still sad

Disney, D23, and Disneystore tweets concour with this sad news!

From 64.229.201.69 on December 16, 2009 at 2:06 PM
Sad news....Walt died December 15, 1966. What a strange coincidence they passed on almost the same dates.
From TH Creative on December 16, 2009 at 3:40 PM
Although I had my differences with his approach and actions, there is no denying his intentions were to maintain his interpretation of the product standards his family's bloodline. Rightly or wrongly was sincere in his beliefs. The importance of his impact on the company's image was confirmed when Michael Eisner's successor, Robert Iger, recruited him back into the fold.

Condolences to his family.

From 98.121.120.238 on December 16, 2009 at 3:29 PM
RIP Roy and the Disney name. You carried on your brother's dreams. We'll miss you.
From Anthony Murphy on December 16, 2009 at 4:08 PM
Never knew he was a fan of TPI! Thats kinda cool!

I wonder what he thought of the Disney blog then?

Also, this is the nephew, not brother of Walt Disney. Roy Disney would be near 110 years old if he was still alive :)

The one thing that interested me is the near silence of the Disney family in the company these days, except him. I wonder why?

From TH Creative on December 16, 2009 at 5:07 PM
"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," John Lasseter
From James Rao on December 16, 2009 at 5:30 PM
Tragic news for Disney fans everywhere. I have nothing further to add except my sincere condolences.
From Amanda Jenkins on December 16, 2009 at 6:08 PM
Very sad news. His influence will be missed in so many ways. I hope someone can step up to the plate and continue to demand the "Disney" perfection.
From Robert Niles on December 16, 2009 at 8:01 PM
Amanda,

To that end, I think it's highly appropriate that TH Creative quoted Mr. John Lasseter. He's your man carrying that responsibility for creative within the company, now and going forward.

From Sylvain Comeau on December 17, 2009 at 1:08 AM
Roy is one of the last to carry the spirit of Walt inside him, and to stand up to rapacious individuals who wanted to loot the company and destroy Walt's magnificent legacy. A toast to Roy Disney, a man who was more than worthy of carrying Walt's last name!
From 209.104.253.90 on December 17, 2009 at 7:38 AM
Boy oh Roy!

I still have my DISAPPOINTED T shirt from when the push to get back to the real Disney Roots was going on. I have lead my life attempting to follow the lead of Walt, Roy and nephew Roy. Their attention to morals and detail. Their zest for life and creating "The Magic". What will happen now? I realize there are still many Disney Family members left but exactly what is their role as Cast Members? Are any actively involved? I have been happy to see things begin to turn around recently. It has been and continues to be a goal of mine to become a Cast Member however it seems that the Disney Company does the correct moral thing and promotes from within. Roy will be missed and my sincere sympathy to all the family. He was a FANTASMIC Man!

From Diane Graebner on December 17, 2009 at 9:16 AM
I was lucky enough to meet Roy not once, but twice during my time as a Disney cast member. The first time was not long after I had started working with the company. I was working at Muppet Vision 3*D. It was a hectic day. Princess Diana was in the park, and CMs were rushing around frantically to accommodate the crowds brought in by a hope to catch sight of the elusive royalty. CMS were not as thrilled at the potential of having Diana visit their attractions as they were by the other special VIP touring the park that day - OUR royalty - Roy Disney. Sure enough, while I was working in the pre-show area of the attraction, rumor had it that Roy had arrived to see our show. It was typical for really VIP guests or recognizable celebrities to be brought in through the back door and then to enter the theater through Sweetum's entrance. Usually they then were escorted to seats in the front row. I decided to see if I could catch a glimpse of him. It wasn't unusual for Muppet staff to enter the theater through the preshow doors once they'd closed to bump through the attraction or to pass info onto the theater CM, so that was my cover story. Expecting Roy to already be in his seat in the front row, I entered the middle doors...and ran right into the middle of his party! Oops! He must have decided to sit further back, and he and his group were waiting for more guests to take seats before he settled into a row. I excused myself as I parted his group in half and basically continued plowing on through as if I had places to go and things to do. I said hello. He said hello back. I continued to the other side of the theater and continued my cover story by whispering something to the theater CM (probably "Holy Cow! I just said hello to Roy Disney and he said hello back! I hope they don't fire me!") before continuing through the exit doors and back into the building to get back to my rightful position in the pre-show!

The second encounter was more official. I was working as a concierge at the Grand Floridian. I had just finished booking some dining for a guest, when another guest came up to my desk. An older woman was standing there and I urged her to have a seat as I'd be right with her as soon as I finished entering the previous guest's information into the computer. She sat down and as I was typing I could see her husband come up out of the corner of my eye. He was speaking to the other concierge at that time, asking questions. I finished typing and looked up in time to see Mrs. Disney sitting in front of her husband Roy! Since Roy looked so much like his uncle, it was like suddenly looking up to see Walt Disney himself standing in front of you! He had been chatting with the other concierge about places to dine that evening and I entered the conversation, making suggestions. There was a Disneyanna convention in the Contemporary Resort that week, and he and his family were there attending that event. Mrs. Disney was complaining about how many hours he was "working" while the family was on vacation. After arranging dining for them, the Disneys thanked the other concierge and I for our help. As they started to walk away, Roy's wife turned back to us and with a mischievous twinkle in her eye told us that NEXT year, the family was going to vacation at Universal, where her husband wouldn't be so prone to work all the time! He gave her an exasperated look, and they left us chuckling at the concierge desk!

Last night, my family and I went to see Princess and the Frog at the movies. It was a fitting tribute to the man who really was the champion of Disney animation. P&F is just the type of movie that Roy Disney was pushing the company to produce more often. Seeing it was the perfect way to celebrate Roy Disney's legacy at the Disney company! He will be missed!

From Rob P on December 18, 2009 at 5:31 AM
I'm truly saddened to learn of Roy's passing.

Many of us lived in the hope that one day he might return to steer the Disney Corporation along the same lines that Walt and Roy.O had done years before. With the emphasis on customer satisfaction rather than on merely swelling the wallets of the shareholders.

He will be greatly missed.

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