Roy Disney, Known as ‘Soul’ of the Studio, Dies at 79

Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew and longtime exec producer and senior exec at the Disney Studio passed away today (Wednesday, Dec. 16) in Newport beach, Calif. after a year-long battle with stomach cancer, reported the Associated Press.

“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,” noted John Lasseter, Disney/Pxar’s chief creative officer, who first met Disney while a student at CalArts. ‘He was a visionary and passionate supporter of the art form.”

Disney was a champion of the company’s classic animation and helped bring about the first renaissance of traditional animation in the 1980sa nd 1990s by supporting the animation teams behind classics such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. He was also recognized widely as a powerful shareholder in the company who spearheaded two successful campaigns to oust company heads (his cousin-in-law Ron Miller and later on, Michael Eisner) who he believed were taking the company in the wrong direction.

Soft-spoken and unpretentious, Disney was also seen as the ‘soul’ of the company by many insiders. ‘The thing that distinguishes [Disney] from everybody else, and always has and always will, is our past,’ he once said ‘The goal is to look over our shoulder and see Snow White and Pinocchio and Dumbo standing there, saying, ‘Be this good.’ We shouldn’t be intimidated by them; they’re an arrow pointing someplace.”

Disney grew up on his uncle’s now-classic retellings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. He also received a sound education in finance from his father Roy Sr., who oversaw Disney Co.’s business end. Upon graduating from Pomona College in 1951, the younger Disney followed his uncle and father into the entertainment industry, working as an editor, screenwriter and producer on a host of projects, from TV’s Dragnet and Zorro to the Oscar-nominated film Mysteries of the Deep.

He would also later produce 2004′s acclaimed Destino, using mid-century animation Salvador Dali created for Walt Disney Co., and Fantasia 2000, a sequel to his uncle’s 1940 classic.

Disney, who also founded the private equity firm Shamrock Holdings, is survived by his wife, Leslie, four children from a previous marriage ‘Tim Disney, Roy Patrick Disney, Abigail Disney and Susan Disney Lord’and 16 grandchildren. Following private funeral services and cremation, Disney’s ashes will be scattered at sea. Plans for a memorial will also be announced soon.