NOTE: This blog post is a repost from December 17, 2009, from a previous site of mine.
Roy Edward Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney, died Wednesday after a yearlong battle with stomach cancer at the age of 79.
Roy played a key role in the revitalization of the Walt Disney Co. and Disney’s animation legacy.
His father, Roy O. Disney, co-founded the Disney entertainment business with Walt Disney in 1923.
Roy E. Disney’s 56-year association with the company culminated in 2003 when he stepped down as vice chairman of Disney’s board and chairman of the Disney Studio’s Animation Department. He kept the title director emeritus and consulted with the company in his final years.
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.’
I had the good fortune of meeting Roy when Jeff Kurtti and he were doing a book signing for Jeff’s new book, What the Sea Teaches Us: The Crew of the Morning Light. Roy had written the forward for the book. I was working full-time for Disney then and the signing was at the Studio Store on the studio lot in Burbank. I got there an hour early and was first in line.
Roy and his wife Leslie arrived first, and I was able to have a short conversation with him. I told him how I met Joe Hale, the writer and producer of The Black Cauldron a few months before at the Disneyana Sale and Show. I told him that Joe spoke fondly of him. Roy smiled and said he hadn’t seen Joe in a while but seemed pleased to hear about Joe. The lady behind me in line was one of the Disney guides who gives tours to visiting dignitaries at Disneyland and I asked her to take a picture of Roy and me. Roy asked his wife Leslie and Jeff to be in the picture with us. As soon as she started shooting pictures for me, everyone started taking pictures somehow assuming this was a publicity shot or something. Flash bulbs were popping everywhere! It was kind of funny. I was thinking afterwards that when people were reviewing the picture they took, they were saying “So here’s Jeff, Roy, and Leslie, but I don’t know who the hell this other guy is.”
To me, meeting Roy was my special way of also meeting Walt Disney. They look very much alike. He was very friendly and easy-going. I have always credited him with reviving Disney’s foray into animation.
I hear that he will be cremated, and his ashes will be scattered at sea. He also was an avid competitive sailor. He held several elapsed-time records for offshore races in the Pacific Ocean, including multiple wins in the 2,225-mile Transpac race between Hawaii and California. Seems like some nice symmetry to that.