By Nick Romano
July 28, 2017 at 11:16 AM EDT
Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Martin A. Sklar, a longtime Imagineer for Disney’s theme parks, died Thursday at his home in Hollywood Hills, California. He was 83.

Named a Disney Legend in 2001, Sklar was a prominent creative force in expanding the company’s vision for theme parks around the globe. “Everything about Marty was legendary — his achievements, his spirit, his career,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “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’s career spanned 54 years. Born Feb. 6, 1934 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, he was tapped to create The Disneyland News for the 1955 theme park, according to the official Disney Parks blog. Sklar joined Disney full time after graduating from UCLA in 1956 and worked closely with Walt Disney. He went on to become the creative leader of Disney Imagineering and lead development on theme park attractions.

A window in Disneyland’s City Hall was dedicated to Sklar in 2009 when he retired as executive vice president and Imagineering ambassador.

Bob Weis, president of Imagineering, recalled how Sklar “helped turn [Disney’s] most ambitious dreams into reality.”

“Marty was the ultimate Disney Imagineer and Cast Member,” Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said. “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. He was one of the few people that was fortunate to attend the opening of every single Disney park in the world, from Anaheim in 1955 to Shanghai just last year. We will dearly miss Marty’s passion, skill, and imaginative spark that inspired generations of Cast, Crew, and Imagineers.”

Sklar is survived by his wife of 60 years, Leah; son Howard and wife Katriina Koski-Sklar; daughter Leslie; and grandchildren Gabriel, Hannah, Rachel, and Jacob. Since Leah founded the Ryman Program for Young Artists with Sklar, the family asks donations be made to Ryman Arts in Sklar’s name in lieu of flowers.