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Walt Disney Co. senior veepee for corporate communications Erwin D. Okun, 58, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a brief battle with cancer of the esophagus.

Company chairman Michael D. Eisner said in a statement that the Disney empire was “stunned and saddened by the loss of this warm, gentle, wise and unassuming man.” Okun joined Disney in 1981 and was named corporate officer in 1984.

Okun was Disney’s public voice through several major news stories, including attempted hostile takeovers of Disney by Sol Steinberg and Irwin Jacobs in 1984.

Eisner said Okun “played a key role in the rejuvenation of Disney” by helping the company to “articulate its goals and achievements at a time in its history when no priority was of greater importance.”

A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Okun served on the California Attorney General’s Commission on the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Along with his wife, Judy, he also campaigned for numerous civic causes and candidates in Beverly Hills.

Disney prexy Frank G. Wells said, “Erwin Okun’s understanding of public relations and the need for a company to be fair and open made him one of the most respected company spokesman in American industry. He was both personable and professional. We will miss him and his guidance.”

Two of Okun’s three daughters work for Disney–Susan Okun Bogner with the Disney Channel and Hilary Okun with Hollywood Records. His third daughter, Lynne Okun, is a graduate student at the U. of California, Davis.

Born in the Bronx, Okun won a scholarship to Cornell U. and earned a degree in industrial and labor relations.

Okun then studied at Columbia U. Graduate School of Journalism before becoming a reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and then the New York World-Telegram and Sun.

He also was business editor of Newsday.

In the early 1960s, Okun joined IBM Corp., working there for 15 years in top PR positions before becoming a director of the IBM/MCA Inc. joint venture DiscoVision Associates.

Okun is also survived by his brother, Arthur. Funeral arrangements are pending.