Remembering former Disney CEO Ron Miller

February 10, 2019, 1:02 PM · Disney fans and cast members are mourning the passing of Ron Miller — Walt Disney's son-in-law who ran the company in the early 1980s, before the arrival of Michael Eisner.

Ron Miller
Photo courtesy Disney

Miller, who was born in 1933, married Walt's daughter Diane in 1954, before a brief career playing for the Los Angeles Rams. After watching Miller get knocked out during a game, Walt offered Miller a full-time job with the studio, where he would spend the rest of his career.

"Everyone at The Walt Disney Company is deeply saddened by the passing of Ron Miller," Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a release from the company. "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. Few people had Ron’s understanding of our history, or a deeper appreciation and respect for our Company, and he shared it generously with anyone who wanted to know more. I was fortunate to have known him, and even luckier to have called him a friend. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Miller succeeded Card Walker as President of what was then known as Walt Disney Productions in 1977, then as CEO in 1983. During that time, Miller established Touchstone Picture and oversaw the launch of The Disney Channel. He also produced several Disney films during that period, including Tron, The Rescuers, and The Black Cauldron.

And during Miller's time as company president, Disney expanded its theme park division, opening Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in 1982 and Tokyo Disneyland in 1983.

Disney endured takeover attempts by corporate raiders during the early 1980s, which eventually led Roy E. Disney and other major shareholders to bring in Michael Eisner to replace Miller. After leaving Disney, Miller and his wife settled in Napa Valley where they worked as winemakers. Diane passed away in 2013.

Ron Miller most recently served as the president of the board of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Miller passed away yesterday in Napa.

Replies (6)

February 10, 2019 at 3:07 PM

I think Ron Miller as CEO of Disney was a genuine case of good guy but not a good fit for that job. He ran the company basically like a protective fanboy: he was afraid to raise the prices, he wouldn't release the movies on home video because he thought they would compromise their integrity, he wouldn't build more hotels for some reason nobody could ever figure out. There was a lot of stuff that was common sense that he wouldn't do. I think Miller really cared about the company, its employees, and the way it was perceived in the public.

Sadly for him the company tanked while he was CEO and Eisner/Wells/Katzenberg came in, changed all of his old policies, and the company turned around pretty quickly. It went from a good ole boys club to a "you are coming in to work on Saturday or not ever coming back" situation. Jack Lindquists' book does a good job describing what it was like when Eisner replaced Miller, Card Walker kept calling and giving him a hard time about how the prices kept going up (jew comments may or may not have been included lol). It was just a totally different mentality. Though while it was a shame to see the prices go up so quickly after the departure of Miller there's no arguing it worked.

February 10, 2019 at 3:09 PM

One of the company's unsung heroes. From Variety: "Shortly before Walt's death in December 1966, Ron and Diane, along with Walt's wife, Lilly, visited him in hospital. "I want you to meet my son," Walt said to the nurse. But she corrected him: "You mean son-in-law." "No, my son," Walt said resolutely."

February 10, 2019 at 5:33 PM

Miller-to-Eisner is when Disney transitioned from what was essentially a (very professional) family business into a modern corporation. Eventually, the family did regain some influence when Roy E. Disney led the effort to push out Eisner, turning to Iger to run the show. And to Iger's credit, he has retained some contact with and shown respect for the family since, as illustrated in his statement today.

But Miller helped grown the family business into a position where the company could control its own destiny - instead of becoming yet another Hollywood takeover target. He was an invaluable part of the company's growth and influence.

February 11, 2019 at 6:45 AM

Hear! Hear! Robert.

February 11, 2019 at 9:10 AM

One of the last personal links to Walt Disney himself. One of the last that could answer the question "What would Walt do?" and answer with some authority.

February 11, 2019 at 9:43 AM

I realize we can't say this is the end of an era, but it certainly feels like a connection is forever gone. The connection to Walt gets farther and farther away. The man becomes a little more legends every year.

Disney War by James Stewart is about the forces that brought in and later removed Michael Eisner. Ron is in the book a bit and I think it's worth reading. I think I enjoyed the book because I felt like it was a great example of Walt's words "...we keep moving forward...".

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