Roy E. Disney, Key Figure in Revitalizing The Walt Disney Company, Disney’s Animation Legacy, Dies at Age 79

Thomas Smith

by , Editorial Content Director, Disney Parks

Roy Edward Disney, son of Disney Studios co-founder Roy O. Disney, and nephew of Walt Disney, passed away today (12/16/09) at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California, following a year-long battle with stomach cancer. He was 79 years old. Disney was a successful businessman, philanthropist, filmmaker, and award-winning sailor, who played a key role in the revitalization of The Walt Disney Company and Disney’s animation legacy. He was associated with the Company over a 56-year period, and from 1984 – 2003, served as vice chairman of the Company’s board of directors, and chairman of the Studio’s Animation Department. In recent years, he held the title of director emeritus and consultant for the Company.

As head of Disney Animation, Disney helped to guide the Studio to a new golden age of animation with an unprecedented string of artistic and box office successes that included “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.” He personally executive produced “Fantasia/2000,” a sequel to the 1940 Disney classic, and served in a similar capacity on a number of recent animated shorts, including the 2004 Oscar®-nominated “Destino,” based on storyboards and original art by the iconic artist Salvador Dali. In the area of live-action films, Disney and his wife, Leslie DeMeuse Disney, most recently executive produced the 2008 feature documentary, “Morning Light,” which followed a group of young sailors as they competed in the grueling Transpac race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

His philanthropic activities included sponsorship of the Roy E. Disney Center for the Performing Arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center, part of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, is scheduled to open in spring, 2010.

Commenting on the announcement, Bob Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said, “On behalf of everyone at Disney, we are saddened by the loss of our friend and colleague Roy E. Disney. He was much more than a valued 56-year Company veteran – Roy’s true passion and focus were preserving and building upon the amazing legacy of Disney animation that was started by his father and uncle. Roy’s commitment to the art of animation was unparalleled and will always remain his personal legacy and one of his greatest contributions to Disney’s past, present and future.”

John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, added, “I first met Roy when I was still an animation student at CalArts. Not only did I consider him a personal friend, but he was a great man who believed deeply in the art of animation. 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. Roy was a visionary and passionate supporter of the art form, and he was all about quality. I was always impressed that he would make time for someone like me when I was fresh out of college, and he continued to support and encourage me throughout my career.”

Stanley Gold, president, Shamrock Holdings, said, “Roy and I enjoyed a 35-year friendship and partnership that was simply special. We faced many business challenges together, had fun in the process, and enjoyed a wide variety of professional successes. Roy was a man who was steadfastly loyal to his principles and to his friends. He was a gracious, humble gentleman who could make the tough decisions life sometimes requires. He carried the torch high and proud, and the world is a better place for his tireless efforts. I will miss him greatly.

Roy Edward Disney was born in Los Angeles on January 10, 1930 to Roy O. Disney and Edna Francis Disney. His father and his uncle, Walt Disney, co-founded the Disney entertainment business in 1923.

After attending Harvard School and Pomona College, Disney launched his entertainment industry career in 1952, working as an assistant film editor on the “Dragnet” TV series.

He joined The Walt Disney Studios in 1953 as an assistant film editor, where his credits included the landmark Academy Award®-winning True-Life Adventures features, “The Living Desert” and “The Vanishing Prairie.” As a writer and production associate, he received Oscar® nominations for his work on the short subject, “Mysteries of the Deep” in 1959, and in 2003 for his work as executive producer for “Destino.”

Disney produced and directed some 35 other TV and theatrical production, including the landmark 1968 documentary, “Varda, the Peregrine Falcon,” before leaving in 1977 to become an independent producer and investor.

In 1978, Disney founded Shamrock Holdings, Inc., a wholly-owned family enterprise headquartered in Burbank, California, which specializes in private equity, real estate, and public equities investing. He served as chairman of the company, which has approximately $1.5 billion of capital committed to funds.

An avid competitive sailor, Disney holds several elapsed-time records for offshore races in the Pacific Ocean, including multiple wins in the 2,225-mile Transpac.

Among his many professional and philanthropic activities, Disney served on the board of trustees of California Institute of the Arts, the advisory board of St. Joseph Medical Center, and the board of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, Inc. Additionally, he was an advisory member of the board of directors of the United States Committee for UNICEF, chairman emeritus of the board of directors of the Peregrine Fund, a member of the board of trustees of Ronald McDonald House charities, and a member of the board of trustees of the American Ireland Fund.

In 1993, he received the Winsor McCay Award (a special “Annie Award”) from ASIFA-Hollywood (The International Animated Film Society). The McCay Award is for lifetime achievement in animation. In 1997, Disney was awarded the first “Mort Walker Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cartoon Industry,” by the Boca Raton International Museum of Cartoon Art.

Disney received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from his alma mater Pomona College in 1998. In 2002, he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Mercy College in New York. The following year, he was presented with the Trustees’ Award and honorary Doctor of the Arts degree from CalArts.

Among his other honors, Disney was named a recipient of the 1999 National Catholic Education Association Elizabeth Ann Seton Award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to children and education. In April 1999, Disney received the Henry Bergh Humane Award from the ASPCA, and in spring 2000, he was awarded the Inaugural Environmental Leadership Award from the Audubon Society.

Disney is survived by his wife, Leslie, and four children from his marriage to Patricia Dailey Disney – Tim Disney, Roy Patrick Disney, Abigail Disney, and Susan Disney Lord. He is also survived by 16 grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private, followed by cremation. His ashes will be scattered at sea. Plans for a Life Celebration will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California.


  • We will miss you Roy! Thank your Dad and Uncle for creating such a magical place, it’s alittle bit of heaven on earth!

  • Thank you for all your hard work and dedication Roy! You were a big influence to all.

  • You leave the world a better place than you found it! Thank you for your magic and see you on the other side 🙂

  • Thank you Roy Disney for all that you did to save Disney and keep Disney true to its roots. Your contributions will be missed. My thoughts to out to the Disney family in this time of sadness.

  • I’m very sorry to hear the sad news, thank you for what you have left us to enjoy, rest in peace. God bless!

  • frank from LA verene CA
    any way as a former Disney land cast member im sadened by the events of yesterday and my thoughts are turely with the Disney family
    god bless you roy you will be missed
    ps i end in saying i dont think mickey has been this sad since walt died

  • We are very very sad . Good bye Mr.Disney and thank you so much
    for to let the dreams come true. Thanks for the love und fun and
    for keeping your uncle´s dreams and visions alive .
    Disney always touch our hearts around in the world . Thank you so
    much . Rest in Peace Mr. Disney You will be forgotten never
    Babett & Anne

  • I like to say I’m very sadden of the news of Roy E Disney passing. But I know he is with God and in a better place. he will be truly truly missed. He did a great fight for as long as he could. What a great man to try to keep his Uncle disney dream alive and do what it takes to do so. We Love to pray for the Disney family during this time of loss.. Know that the Disney family has brought so so much love and joy to the whole world, and that our loving God undoubtedly reserves a very very special place for people like Roy in Heaven. May God BE WITH YOU DISNEY FAMILY NOW AND ALWAYS.
    In christ Love The Boniface Family

  • We are very sad …. Roy was a great man and a member of a great family… we pray for the Disney family during this time of loss.. Know that the Disney family has brought much love and joy to this world, and that God undoubtedly reserves a special place for people like Roy in Heaven.

  • Me and my family are very sadden by the news of Roy Disney passing. He brought so much joy to me and my family lives. From visiting walt disney world every year to watching his films. He will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences goes out to the Disney family. And I know his legacy will forever live on.

  • God bless you Roy. Our prayers are with your family. You taught all of us that no matter what the age magic lives within us and to fight for what you believe in. Thank you for all you strove for!

  • Requiem aeternam Roy…

  • A very sad day. You will be missed Mr. Disney.

  • RIP Mr Disney. 🙁

    Will Disneyland be doing a ceremony? If so, i would like to attend.

  • Very saddened by these news, my condolences to his family and everyone who knew him. Thank you for bringing so much happiness into our lives and into the lives of people around the World. Your legacy will live on! and may God bless the Disney family forever:)

  • Such a great loss. You will be missed Roy – thanks for making a huge difference in my life and so many others! Rest in Peace and Joy!

  • Mary from Santa Barbara, CA……I will truly miss Roy Disney. I never had the privilege meeting him. But I am a former cast member of Disney and that was one of my dreams was to meet him. He was an a amazing man, so creative with a heart of gold. Reading his Bio today that this world and our country is a better place because of Roy E. Disney. Thank you for visions and story telling…You will be truly missed.

  • I will still never forget the first time I saw Fantasia 2000, a wonderful legacy that Roy Disney guided to what I consider perfection. The influence he provided to the second golden age of animation of the Disney Company in the 1980’s-90’s will live on forever. Roy, you will be greatly missed.

  • I miss you already. I hope the Disney Corporation never forgets what you stood for.

  • RIP- thanks for all your contributions to the Disney legacy. Just two weeks ago my family and I visited the park and were commenting on how December is a bad month for the Disney family. Walt’s death anniversary was just yesterday and Lillian’s death was the same day as Walt’s but years and years later. Our thoughts are with you.

  • Thank you so very much, Roy, for everything you’ve done. You will be truly and sorely missed.

    I send my sincerest thoughts to your entire family.

  • Thank you, Roy, for what you gave to us. In the class I teach on Disney today I announced my Daily Disney history, and one of the items was that today in 1959 his “Mysteries of the Deep” was released, making today its 50th anniversary. So sad to then learn that we lost Roy today. My thoughts to his family. We will all miss him.

  • Both myself and my family wish to conveay or saddness over the loss of such a great and wounderful man! We wish to give our sincere appoligies to his family!

  • I am deeply saddened at the news of Roy’s passing. Roy kept the Disney dream alive and fought very hard to keep the dream alive. I will forever spread that dream to others in hopes that there are enough of us out there to keep it going. RIP Roy.

  • Rest in peace Roy. You will be truly missed. My thoughts and care to the Disney family.

  • God bless you and your family.. You will be surely missed…

  • a very very sad day, RIP

  • Rest In Peace

  • Mr. Disney’s leaves behind a legacy that’s right up there with his uncle’s. Some of the Company’s best loved animated features were a direct result of his efforts. He will be missed…

  • Rest in Peace, Roy. Your fight to keep Disney Animation alive is why we have the incredible movies we have today. Thank you.

  • RIP Roy E. Disney. It is a sad day for the Disney family.. 🙁

  • Our thoughts and prayers go out to Roy’s family, friends, and colleagues. He will most definitely be missed.

  • Rest in peace Roy. Thanks for the memories!

  • Its a very sad day. You will be greatly missed Mr. Disney 🙁

    I’m glad that you fought so hard to keep your uncle’s dreams alive.

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