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Martin Sklar, Key Designer in Disney Theme Parks, Has Died

Martin Sklar, a pioneering Walt Disney Co. imagineer who played a key role in the design of Disney theme parks, has died, the company announced. He was 83.

“Everything about Marty was legendary — his achievements, his spirit, his career,” Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger said in a statement about Sklar, who died Thursday at his home in the Hollywood Hills.

“He embodied the very best of Disney, from his bold originality to his joyful optimism and relentless drive for excellence. He was also a powerful connection to Walt himself. No one was more passionate about Disney than Marty and we’ll miss his enthusiasm, his grace, and his indomitable spirit.”

Sklar spent 54 years at Disney. He worked closely with Walt Disney and led the creative development of the Burbank company’s theme parks, attractions and resorts around the world, including the company’s ventures in the cruise business, housing development and the redesign of Times Square in New York, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Sklar was born in New Brunswick, N.J., and attended UCLA, where he was editor of the Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to create The Disneyland News for Walt Disney’s new Anaheim theme park in 1955. After graduating in 1956, he joined Disney full-time and became Walt Disney’s lieutenant, writing speeches, marketing materials, and a film showcasing Walt’ vision for Walt Disney World and the Epcot theme park in Florida.

“He understands the Disney way because he learned it at Walt’s knee,” Jim Cora, a former chairman of Disneyland International, told The Times in 2006. “He is the keeper of the keys, the conscience, the Jiminy Cricket for the organization.”

Sklar would eventually become the creative leader of Imagineering, the storied theme park design and development arm. After a half-century with the company, Sklar retired as principal creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering in 2006 but remained an “ambassador” for the group for three more years.

Sklar is survived by his wife of 60 years, Leah; son Howard and his wife, Katriina Koski-Sklar; grandchildren Gabriel and Hannah; daughter Leslie; and grandchildren Rachel and Jacob.

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