Richard Bates, Disney’s Longtime Head of Government Relations, Dies at 70

Cynthia Littleton
·3-min read

Richard Bates, the longtime head of government relations for Disney, died Dec. 31 at his home outside Washington, D.C. He was 70.

Disney said the executive’s death was sudden. Bates had represented Disney in the halls of Congress and other public policy arenas since 1991.

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Disney insiders are “heartbroken” over Bates’ death, Disney executive chairman Bob Iger and CEO Bob Chapek said in a joint statement. Friends and co-workers described Bates as a “gentleman” who was extremely knowledgable about governmental issues.

“As head of our Government Relations team in Washington, D.C., Richard was second to none in his field — widely respected for his incredible achievements and beloved for his extraordinary kindness, compassion, and irresistible wit,” Iger and Chapek said in a statement. “He was passionate about his work and approached it with the same astuteness and unwavering enthusiasm he demonstrated when he first joined Disney three decades ago. For those of us lucky enough to have known Richard personally, his loss is profound. He will be deeply missed, and our prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Rose, their sons Ricky and Chris, and his entire family.”

MPA chairman-CEO Charles Rivkin was among the many industry colleagues who saluted Bates.

“Everyone loved Richard,” Rivkin said. “Generous, supportive charming and witty, he was widely respected and admired here in Washington and beyond, and he was a fierce advocate for the creative industries and the Walt Disney Company — which for him was much more than a job. His loss is deeply felt throughout the MPA, and it’s with heavy hearts that we think about entering the new year without him at our side.”

Rivkin’s predecessor at MPA, former Sen. Chris Dodd, also paid tribute to Bates’ “passion, thoughtfulness, good humor and friendship” in a statement.

“He was a tremendously loyal friend during my time in the Senate and later at the MPA, where he was a strong advocate for the Disney company,” Dodd said.

Gordon Smith, president-CEO of the National Assn. of Broadcasters who previously represented Oregon in the U.S. Senate, said staffers at the trade organization for broadcaster TV and radio station owners were “deeply saddened” by Bates’ passing.

“Broadcasters were well-served on Capitol Hill by Richard’s larger-than-life personality, his razor wit, his humanity and decency, and his extraordinary competence,” Smith said. As a U.S. Senator, I witnessed firsthand his effectiveness and ability to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and I greatly valued his friendship, support and counsel while at NAB. All of us at NAB extend our deepest condolences to his family and his friends and colleagues at Disney.”

Bates served as senior VP of government relations for Disney. He was the first to open a Washington, D.C. office for the studio when he signed on. Before joining Disney, Bates served as executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where he steered a staff of 80.

In 2018, Bates was elected to the board of trustees of the Media Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization for free speech and communications policy issues.

Bates was a native of Fairfax, Va. Survivors include his wife Rose and two sons, Ricky and Chris.

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