Ron W. Miller, producer of countless Disney films and the former President and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, has passed away at the age of 85.
Miller came to the company via his wife, Diane Disney, Walt’s daughter. The two met at the University of Southern California, and married in 1954. Following a brief career in the National Football League, playing for the Los Angeles Rams. Miller told entertainment reporter Dale Pollock in 1984, “”My father-in-law saw me play in two football games when I was with the Los Angeles Rams. In one of them, I caught a pass and Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane let me have it from the rear. His forearm came across my nose and knocked me unconscious. I woke up in about the third quarter. At the end of the season, Walt came up to me and said, ‘You know, I don’t want to be the father to your children. You’re going to die out there. How about coming to work with me?’ I did and it was a wise decision on my part.”
Initially with Disney, Miller also had a small role in the building of Disneyland, as he told the Nob Hill Gazette last year: “I was waiting to be drafted [into the Army] and Walt said, “What are you going to do while you’re waiting to be drafted?” I said, “I’ve got a tentative job driving a truck.” And he said, “Well, look, I’ve got this place down in Anaheim that I’m just starting to build, and maybe you can find a little job there somewhere until you get drafted.” And so twice a day I would drive from Burbank to Anaheim, and drop off the plans. I saw them move the orange trees. I saw them develop Rivers of America without water. I was watching something really exciting happen.”
Miller rose through the ranks and became a producer on Disney films towards the end of Walt’s life and following his passing in 1966. His co-producer credit can be found on films including Son of Flubber, Summer Magic, and That Darn Cat! Starting in 1968, Miller became the executive producer on Disney’s films of the 1970’s and 80’s, including Escape to Witch Mountain, Pete’s Dragon, Tron, and The Black Cauldron. He was elected to be the President of Walt Disney Productions in 1980.
Miller became Disney’s CEO in 1983, and shepherded the company through a time of ambitious growth, including the launch of The Disney Channel in 1983 and the establishment of Touchstone Pictures the following year. On the theme park side, Miller was a key proponent of the development of EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland. Miller left Disney in 1984 as part of the drastic change that brought Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells to the company.
In 1981, Miller opened Silverado Vineyards Winery in Napa Valley, California, while he and Diane worked on the creation of The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, where he served as president of the museum’s board of directors. Diane Disney Miller passed away in 2013. The pair had seven children.