LOS ANGELES – Roy E. Disney, the son and nephew of The Walt Disney Co. founders who twice led shareholder revolts that shook up the family business, died Wednesday. He was 79.
The Walt Disney Co. announced that Disney died in Newport Beach, Calif., after a bout with stomach cancer.
Although he generally stayed out of the spotlight, Roy Disney didn't hesitate to lead a successful campaign in 1984 to oust Walt Disney's son-in-law after concluding he was leading the company in the wrong direction.
Nearly 20 years later, he launched another successful shareholders revolt, this time against Michael Eisner, the man he'd helped bring in after the previous ouster.
Disney, born in 1930, had practically grown up with the company. His uncle Walt Disney and his father, Roy O. Disney, had co-founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio seven years before, later renaming it The Walt Disney Co.
Two years before he was born, the company gave birth to its iconic cartoon character, Mickey Mouse. While Walt was the company's creative genius, his brother was the one in charge of the company's finances.
Starting in the 1950s, the younger Roy Disney worked for years in the family business as an editor, screenwriter and producer. Two short films he worked on were nominated for Academy Awards: the 1959 "Mysteries of the Deep," which he wrote, was nominated as best live action short, and the 2003 film "Destino," which he co-produced, was nominated as best animated short.
Despite his heritage, Roy Disney never got the chance to lead the company as his father and uncle had. But as an investor who grew his Disney stock into a billion-dollar fortune, he ultimately had a huge impact on the company's destiny.
In 1984, dissatisfied with the leadership Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller was providing, Disney resigned from the company's board of directors and sought investors to back a bid to install new management. (Miller was the husband of Diane Disney Miller, Roy's cousin.)
His efforts resulted in the hiring of Eisner and Frank Wells, who led the company as a team until Wells died in 1994.
During that time, Disney rejoined the board and rose to become the company's vice chairman and chairman of its animation division, where he helped oversee the making of such hit films as 1994's "The Lion King."
He also became a savvy investor over the years, forming Shamrock Holdings with his friend and fellow Disney board member Stanley Gold in 1978. The fund grew to become a major investor in California real estate, the state of Israel and other entertainment and media companies.
In 2007, Forbes magazine ranked him as the 754th richest person in the world and estimated his fortune at $1.3 billion. He was not on the list in subsequent years.
In his spare time he bought a castle in Ireland and indulged his passion for yacht racing, setting several speed records. For years he was a fixture at the Transpacific Yacht Race between California and Hawaii.
After years of dissatisfaction with Eisner's leadership and the company's lagging stock price, Disney and Gold resigned their board seats in 2003 and launched a shareholder revolt.
In his resignation letter, Disney called for Eisner's ouster, complaining that on his watch the company's standards had declined, particularly at theme parks like California's Disneyland and Florida's Walt Disney World.
"The Walt Disney Company deserves fresh, energetic leadership at this challenging time in its history just as it did in 1984 when I headed a restructuring which resulted in your recruitment to the company," Disney wrote to Eisner.
Initially rebuffed, Disney rallied small investors and enthusiasts who responded to his folksy complaints about peeling paint at the theme parks and his anger at being told he would have to leave the board because he was too old.
"One of the reasons for my leaving, other than the fact that they fired me, was that I saw that quality slipping away from us," Disney told a 2004 meeting of memorabilia collectors.
Slowly, Disney built support for his cause, and at the company's annual shareholders meeting in 2004 he received a standing ovation.
Shareholders eventually delivered an unprecedented rebuke to Eisner, withholding 45 percent of votes cast for his re-election to the board.
The chief executive was later stripped of his role as board chairman and announced his retirement in 2005, a year before his contract was up.
Disney initially opposed Eisner's successor, Robert Iger, but they reconciled and in 2005 Iger named Disney a board member emeritus and welcomed him back to company events.
Born in Los Angeles on Jan. 10, 1930, Roy Edward Disney was Roy and Edna Disney's only child. As an adult, he often wore a mustache, which gave him a striking resemblance to his legendary uncle.
After graduating from Pomona College in 1951, he briefly worked at NBC as an assistant editor on the "Dragnet" TV series.
After joining Disney, he worked on a series of live action short features, including "The Living Desert" and "The Vanishing Prairie."
Disney was also an active philanthropist, supporting the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, a school founded by his father and uncle.
In 1999, he matched a gift from The Walt Disney Co. to establish an experimental theater space as part of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The theater was named the Roy and Edna Disney-CalArts Theater or Redcat.
In 2005, he pledged $10 million to establish the Roy and Patricia Disney Cancer Center at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.