Obituary: Diane Disney Miller / Walt Disney's last surviving child and defender

Dec. 18, 1933 - Nov. 19, 2013

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Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's last surviving child, who stood up for Frank Gehry's spectacularly abstract design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and co-founded a museum dedicated to the memory of her animator/business mogul father as a human being rather than a brand, died Tuesday in Napa Valley, Calif., where she had a home. She was 79.

The cause was injuries sustained in a fall, Andi Wang, the communications manager of the Walt Disney Family Museum, wrote in an email message.

Ms. Miller had mostly walked away from the Disney entertainment business empire after her husband, Ronald W. Miller, was removed as chief executive of Walt Disney Productions in 1984. But she later became a staunch defender of her father's legacy through Disney Hall and the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

In June 1988, Lillian Disney, Walt's widow, announced plans to contribute $50 million toward a new concert hall for downtown Los Angeles. More than 70 architectural firms submitted proposals. Mr. Gehry's, a riot of swooping concave and convex curves that some have likened to sails on a ship -- he called it a "ceremonial barge for music" -- was chosen that December.

"The ideal concert hall, say experts, is a shoebox lined with wood and plaster," the architecture critic Herbert Muschamp wrote for The New York Times in 1992. "But this is a box fit for Cinderella's slippers."

The hall was supposed to be completed in 1997 for around $110 million. It quickly ran into problems, including poor management, disagreements over the design and spiraling costs.

The hall finally opened in 2003, at a cost of about $274 million. Lillian Disney never got to hear a concert there; she died in 1997.

Diane Marie Disney was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 18, 1933. She studied English at the University of Southern California but left to marry Mr. Miller, who had played on the university's football team, in 1954.

At her death, Ms. Miller was president of the board of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, whose mission is to ensure that her father, who was the original voice of his cartoon creation Mickey Mouse, and not just his company, is remembered.


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