Early life and career
Disney was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Edna (née Francis) and Roy Oliver Disney, and nephew of Walt Disney. He graduated from Pomona College in 1951 and first began working for the Walt Disney Company as an assistant director of Walt Disney, producing "True-Life Adventure" films in 1954. He married Patricia Ann Dailey in 1955 and is a father of four. He continued to work as a writer, director and producer until 1967 when he was elected to the Board of Directors of the company.
First "Save Disney" war (1984)
Roy Disney resigned as an executive from the Disney company in 1977 due to disagreements with corporate decisions at that time. As he claimed later, "I just felt creatively the company was not going anywhere interesting. It was very stifling." But he retained a seat on the board of directors. His resignation from the board in 1984, which occurred in the midst of a corporate takeover battle, was the beginning of a series of developments that led to the replacement of company president and CEO Ronald William Miller (married to Walt's daughter Diane Marie Disney) by Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. Roy soon returned to the company as vice-chairman of the board of directors and head of the animation department.
Partnership with Eisner
He set his goal as revitalizing the company's tradition of animated feature films and by the end of the decade, there were successes in this department. Although Roy acted largely as a figurehead, he could wield significant power, even over Eisner, his ostensible boss, and employees of the department have praised Roy for ensuring them plenty of artistic freedom on their projects. During the 1990s, Roy's department produced a number of commercially successful, critically acclaimed films and the era has been called a renaissance for the company and animation in general, though there was a decline in profits starting at the end of the decade. On October 16, 1998, in a surprise presentation made at the newly unveiled Disney Legends Plaza at the company's headquarters, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner presented him with the prestigious Disney Legends Award.
Roy's pet project was the film Fantasia 2000, a sequel to the 1940 animated movie Fantasia produced by his uncle Walt Disney. Walt Disney had planned a sequel to the original movie but it was never made. Roy decided to make this long-delayed sequel, and he was the executive producer of the film that took nine years to produce and was finally released on December 17, 1999. Like its predecessor, the film combines high-quality contemporary animation with classical music. Also like its predecessor, it was not a financial success at the US box office.
Roy gained celebrity status. The last member of the Disney family to be actively involved in the company, he was compared to both his uncle Walt Disney and his father Roy Oliver Disney in appearance and personality. Forbes magazine estimated his personal fortune at about US $1.2 billion.
Second "Save Disney" war (2003–05)
After a struggle with CEO Michael Eisner, Roy Disney's influence began to wane as more executives friendly to Eisner were appointed to high posts. When the board of directors rejected Disney's request for an extension of his term as board member, he announced his resignation on November 30, 2003, citing "serious differences of opinion about the direction and style of management" in the company. He issued a letter criticizing Eisner for mismanaging the company, neglecting the studio's animation division, failures with ABC, timidity in the theme park business, instilling a corporate mentality in the executive structure, turning the Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company, and of refusing to establish a clear succession plan.
After his resignation, Disney helped establish the website SaveDisney.com, intended to oust Michael Eisner and his supporters from their positions and revamp the Walt Disney Company.
On March 3, 2004, at Disney's annual shareholders' meeting, a surprising and unprecedented 43% of Disney's shareholders, predominantly rallied by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, voted to oppose the re-election of Eisner to the corporate board of directors. This vigorous opposition, unusual in major public corporations, convinced Disney's board to strip Eisner of his chairmanship and give that position to former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. However, the board did not give Eisner's detractors what they really wanted: his immediate removal as chief executive. In fact, Roy Disney's campaign regarded Mitchell himself unfavorably; 25% of shareholders opposed Mitchell's re-election to the board in the same election.
As criticism of Eisner intensified in the wake of the shareholder meeting, however, his position became more and more tenuous, and on March 13, 2005, Eisner announced that he would step down as CEO on September 30, one year before his contract expired.
On July 8, Roy and the Walt Disney Company, then still nominally headed by Eisner but, in fact, run by Eisner's long-time lieutenant, Bob Iger, agreed to "put aside their differences." Roy rejoined the Walt Disney Company as a nonvoting Director Emeritus and consultant. Roy and Gold agreed to shut down their SaveDisney.com website, which went offline August 7.
On September 30, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a member of the board of directors, and, severing all formal ties with the company, he waived his contractual rights to perks such as use of a corporate jet, a Golden Pass and an office at the company's Burbank headquarters. Eisner's replacement was Bob Iger.
One of Roy Disney's stated reasons for engineering his second "Save Disney" initiative had been Eisner's well-publicized but financially unjustified dissatisfaction with long-time production partner Pixar Animation Studios and its CEO Steve Jobs, creators of shared hits Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and other critically acclaimed computer animated motion pictures. This estrangement was quickly repaired by successor Iger upon Eisner's exit, and on January 24, 2006, the company announced it would acquire Pixar in an all-stock deal worth US $7.4 billion, catapulting Jobs, also co-founder and CEO of Apple, Inc, to Disney's largest shareholder with 7% of the corporation's outstanding shares. Jobs also gained a new seat on Disney's board of directors. Former CEO Eisner, who still holds 1.7% of shares, became Disney's second largest shareholder, and Director Emeritus Roy Disney, with 1% of shares, became its third largest owner.
Roy Disney's efforts to oust Eisner from the company were chronicled by James B. Stewart in his best-selling book, DisneyWar.
Roy Disney died of stomach cancer on December 16, 2009 at age 79. He was survived by his wife Leslie DeMuse-Disney, four children sons Roy P. Disney and Tim Disney and daughters Susan Disney and Abigail Disney from his first marriage to Patty Dailey and sixteen grandchildren.