Marty Sklar, pioneering Disney imagineer and architect of Disneyland, dies at 83

Marty Sklar, the pioneering Disney Imagineer who worked closely with Walt Disney to bring his bold vision of the original Disneyland theme park to life, died Thursday at his Hollywood Hills home. He was 83.

Sklar spent more than a half-century working for Walt Disney Co. He was one of only a few people in the world to have attended the opening of every Disney theme park, from Disneyland in 1955 through last year's debut of Shanghai Disney Resort. Sklar was named a Disney Legend in 2001. He received the ultimate Disney tribute upon his retirement from the company in 2009, when his name was added to a window on Disneyland's City Hall.

"Everything about Marty was legendary — his achievements, his spirit, his career," said Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger. "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."

See photos of Marty Sklar:

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Disney imagineer Marty Sklar through the years
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Disney imagineer Marty Sklar through the years
(R) Bonnie Arnold.(Dreamworks SKG) Marty Sklar accepted the award for John Hench Co-Winner of the Winsor McCay Award (Recognition of Lifetime or Career Contributions to the Art of Animation along with Gene Deitch and Thurl Ravenscroft who was not present
D23 EXPO 2015 - D23 EXPO, the ultimate Disney fan event, brings together all the past, present and future of Disney entertainment under one roof. Taking place August 14-16, this year marks the fourth D23 EXPO at the Anaheim Convention Center and promises to be the biggest and most spectacular yet. (Photo by Disney/Image Group LA via Getty Images) MARTY SKLAR
D23 EXPO 2015 - D23 EXPO, the ultimate Disney fan event, brings together all the past, present and future of Disney entertainment under one roof. Taking place August 14-16, this year marks the fourth D23 EXPO at the Anaheim Convention Center and promises to be the biggest and most spectacular yet. (Photo by ABC/Image Group LA via Getty Images) JOHN LASSETER (Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios; Principal Creative Advisor, Walt Disney Imagineering), MARTY SKLAR
D23 EXPO 2015 - D23 EXPO, the ultimate Disney fan event, brings together all the past, present and future of Disney entertainment under one roof. Taking place August 14-16, this year marks the fourth D23 EXPO at the Anaheim Convention Center and promises to be the biggest and most spectacular yet. (Photo by Disney/Image Group LA via Getty Images) MARTY SKLAR
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Marty Sklar (R) attends The Walt Disney Family Museum Gala at Disneyland on November 1, 2016 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/WireImage)
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Actor Neil Patrick Harris and Recipient of Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award, Marty Sklar attend The Walt Disney Family Museum's 2nd Annual Gala at Disney�s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at The Disneyland Resort on November 1, 2016 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for The Walt Disney Family Museum)
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Recipient of Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award, Marty Sklar and Master of Ceremonies, Neil Patrick Harris perform onstage during The Walt Disney Family Museum's 2nd Annual Gala at Disney�s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at The Disneyland Resort on November 1, 2016 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for The Walt Disney Family Museum)
D23 EXPO 2017 - Sunday, July 16, 2017 - The Ultimate Disney Fan Event - brings together all the worlds of Disney under one roof for three packed days of presentations, pavilions, experiences, concerts, sneak peeks, shopping, and more. The event, which takes place July 14-16 at the Anaheim Convention Center, provides fans with unprecedented access to Disney films, television, games, theme parks, and celebrities. (Image Group LA / Disney via Getty Images) MARTY SKLAR
D23 EXPO 2017 - Friday, July 14, 2017 - The Ultimate Disney Fan Event - brings together all the worlds of Disney under one roof for three packed days of presentations, pavilions, experiences, concerts, sneak peeks, shopping, and more. The event, which takes place July 14-16 at the Anaheim Convention Center, provides fans with unprecedented access to Disney films, television, games, theme parks, and celebrities. Image Group LA via Getty Images MARTY SKLAR
D23 EXPO 2017 - Sunday, July 16, 2017 - The Ultimate Disney Fan Event - brings together all the worlds of Disney under one roof for three packed days of presentations, pavilions, experiences, concerts, sneak peeks, shopping, and more. The event, which takes place July 14-16 at the Anaheim Convention Center, provides fans with unprecedented access to Disney films, television, games, theme parks, and celebrities. (Image Group LA / Disney via Getty Images) MARTY SKLAR
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Even after his retirement, Sklar remained active as a booster of all things Disney. He was one of the last links to the generation of Disney employees who worked directly with the company's legendary founder. Solar was on hand just two weeks ago at Disneyland, greeting fans at the company's biennial D23 Expo in Anaheim, Calif. He was well known to Disney super-fans for his wide smile and sunny disposition.

"Marty was the ultimate Disney Imagineer and Cast Member. From his days working as an intern with Walt to just two weeks ago engaging with fans at D23 Expo, Marty left an indelible mark on Disney Parks around the globe and on all of the guests who make memories every day with us," said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Born in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1934, Sklar was a student and editor of UCLA's Daily Bruin when he was tapped to launch the Disneyland News publication prior to the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim in July 1955.

After graduating the following year, Sklar became a right-hand man to Disney, writing speeches, developing marketing materials and other promotional elements to support the launch of Disney World and Epcot Center. He also joined WED Enterprises, a forerunning of Disney's famed Imagineering technical R&D and operations unit.

More people we've lost in 2017:

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Celebrities who died in 2017
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Michael Nyqvist, who starred in the Swedish film version of “The Girl With Dragon Tattoo,” died after a battle with lung cancer. He was 56.

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Roger Smith, who starred in the series "77 Sunset Strip" and was married to actress Ann-Margret, died Sunday in Sherman Oaks. He was 84.

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Gregg Allman, best known for performing in The Allman Brothers Band, passed away at 69.

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Erin Moran, who is known for her role in TV sitcom "Happy Days," died at the age of 56 after a secret battle with cancer.

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Comedian Don Rickles died at the age of 90 from kidney failure.

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Jonathan Demme, the director known for his work on thriller "Silence of the Lambs," died at 73 from esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease.

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Roger Ailes, who was at FOX News for two decades before being ousted last year for alleged sexual harassment, died at 77 after suffering a fall at his home.

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Bill Paxton died unexpectedly at age 61 on February 25. 

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Soul singer Cuba Gooding Sr., who is also Cuba Gooding Jr.'s father, died at 72.

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Legendary actress Mary Tyler Moore passed away at the age of 80.

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Frank Deford, giant of sports journalism, died at 78.

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Rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry, who is known for hits like ''Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Roll Over Beethoven," died at 90 years old.

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Television personality Christopher 'Big Black' Boykin, known for his MTV show "Rob & Big," died at the age of 45.

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Dina Merrill, the actress known for movies like "Butterfield 8" and "Operation Petticoat," died at 93.

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Former pop singer Tommy Page was found dead at 46 in New York City.

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"Doll Squad" star Francine York passed away at 80 after a battle with cancer.

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Joni Sledge, the "We Are Family" singer, was found dead in her Phoenix home. She was 60.

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Jazz legend Al Jarreau died at the age of 76.

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Actor Robert Michael Morris died at age 77. His death was confirmed by friend Lisa Kudrow.

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"For us, it's hard to imagine a world without Marty, because Marty is synonymous with Imagineering," said Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering. "His influence can be seen around the world, in every Disney park, and in the creative and imaginative work of almost every professional in the themed entertainment industry."

Sklar penned several books about his lifetime at Disney, including "Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms" (2013), and "One Little Spark!: Mickey's Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering" (2015).

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Leah; a son, Howard; a daughter, Leslie; and four grandchildren. The family requests that donations be made in Sklar's name to the Ryman Program for Young Artist. Marty and Leah Sklar helped launch the nonprofit foundation devoted to teaching drawing and painting skills to young artists in Southern California.

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