Diane Disney Miller

Diane Disney Miller attends an event at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / October 23, 2003)

Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney and a philanthropist in Los Angeles best known for keeping Frank Gehry on the job during a crucial phase of planning L.A.'s new concert hall, has died. She was 79.

Miller died Tuesday at her home in Napa, Calif., from complications of a fall in September, according to close family friend Richard Greene, who co-wrote a biography of her father.

The Walt Disney Company president and CEO Robert Iger said Tuesday that Disney Miller “will be greatly missed by all who knew her,” noting “she holds a special play in the history of The Walt Disney Company and in the hearts of fans everywhere.”

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Diane Disney Miller and our thoughts are with her family during his difficult time,” Iger said in a statement Tuesday. “As the beloved daughter of Walt Disney and one of his inspirations for creating Disneyland, she holds a special place in the history of The Walt Disney Company and in the hearts of fans everywhere.  She will be remembered for her grace and generosity and tireless work to preserve her father’s legacy, and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”


Miller was born Dec. 18, 1933, in Los Angeles to Walter and Lillian Disney. The next day, the Los Angeles Times declared in an article, “Mickey Mouse has a daughter.”

She married professional football player Ron Miller in 1954. He went on to serve as the company's president in 1978 and chief executive a few years later. The couple purchased a vineyard in Napa Valley in 1976 and have operated a collection of vineyards under the name Silverado Vineyards.

Ron Miller was ousted from the company in 1984, paving the way for the new executive team of Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Wells, who helped transform a sleepy theme park and animation company into a entertainment powerhouse with hit movies, TV shows and new theme park attractions in Orlando, Florida, and Paris.

She chaired a Los Angeles gala in September commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s debut.

“I wanted something that would bear my father’s name, that would come from his wealth but not be commercial,” she said. “That would be just a wonderful thing for the city, for the spirit, for the soul.

“I think we achieved that.”

In 1987, Lillian Disney gave $50 million to build a new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But delays set in and costs soared. They wanted to pull the critical task of producing working drawings for the building from Gehry, saying his firm was too inexperienced.

That’s when Miller came into the picture, in 1997, backing the architect. Miller decreed that a portion of her mother’s gift not yet spent be used to hire Gehry’s firm for the drawings. She also co-chaired, with Broad, a project oversight board. “I just felt it was important to hang in there for my mother’s interest. That’s the only time we asserted any ownership rights, with that last bit of the gift.”

Miller's adopted sister, Sharon Mae Disney, died in 1993. In addition to her husband, she is survived by seven children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.