I’m not sure why it hit me so hard and why I was left with a sensation like I was punched in the gut, but that’s how I felt when I found out that Diane Disney Miller, the daughter of the one and only Walt Disney, had died.
What made the story personal for me was that not only am I a passionate fan and scholar of Walt Disney, but that I had recently met Diane Disney Miller at a Walt Disney Family Museum function. The occasion was the wonderful tribute to Tyrus Wong. I spotted the one and only biological daughter of Walt Disney out of the corner of my eye as she hung out with the 102-year-old artist. I asked a staffer if that was indeed Diane Miller Disney, explaining that I write about all things Disney for a living, and he said, “Oh, go say hi to her. I bet she’d love to meet you.” As I approached her, I was hit with a smidgen of being starstruck … and I am not one who gets starstruck easily or often. But this was WALT DISNEY’S DAUGHTER! And you know what? She could not have been nicer.
She is one of those people who is so incredibly down to earth, grounded, sweet, open, and friendly that she completely put me at ease. I felt like I had known her for years. She talked about the museum, Disney films, and — of course — her father. She had the same kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm that I envisioned her father having. I introduced her to my daughter and she was so wonderful with her, asking her questions and noting that she loved my daughter’s name since her first grandchild has the same name.
We made plans; I was to go up to their winery, where they were going to give us a tour, and I would do an interview with Diane Disney Miller. I was planning on going up in the next couple of weeks and was really looking forward to not just hearing her stories, but also getting to know her as a person. I daydreamed of getting to know the Millers, sipping their fine wine, being regaled with stories, and maybe even making their Christmas card list. But now that will never happen. Yes, our meeting was fleeting, but it will always be a meeting I will cherish.
Diane Miller died at the age of 79 at her home due to complications from a fall. She lived in Napa Valley, near San Francisco, where the family museum was housed and where she and husband Ron Miller ran the Silverado Vineyards Winery. They couple had been together for 60 years and had raised seven children together.
Diane Disney Miller kept busy. She was pivotal in making the Walt Disney Family Museum a reality (it opened in 2009), and she also spearheaded the creation of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. “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.”
Disney president and CEO, Bob Iger, paid tribute to Diane Miller Disney beautifully in a statement, saying: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Diane Disney Miller, and our thoughts are with her family during his difficult time … 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.”
The Walt Disney Museum said on their site, “She went through life with a determination to inspire and entertain. She was her father’s daughter, a creative force with the perseverance to follow dreams and make a difference.”
Diane Disney Miller will be missed. Check out the slideshow below of my daughter with Diane Disney Miller and some vintage Disney family photos.