Walter C. Miller, a five-time Emmy-winner best known for producing or directing the Grammys, Tonys and CMA Awards in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, died on Friday evening, the Country Music Association confirmed to Variety. He was 94.
“Walter was an absolute television legend,” said CMA chief executive officer Sarah Trahern in a statement. “When you worked with him, you instantly knew you were in the presence of greatness. He brought so much innovation and brilliance to the CMA Awards over the 40 years he worked with the organization.”
Miller also served at the helm of other awards shows, as well, including the Emmys, People’s Choice Awards and Latin Grammys.
Miller was nominated for 19 prime-time Emmy Awards, taking home five trophies between 1972 and 1999 — four of them from directing the Tony Awards. He was also nominated for two daytime Emmys. Miller was a three-time Directors Guild of America winner. In 1993, he won a CableACE Award for his ongoing work helming the “Comic Relief” specials. In 2010, after his retirement, the Grammys gave him the org’s Trustees Award.
Born Walter Corwin Miller in 1926, the longtime entertainment professional broke into the industry as a lighting director for the NBC variety series “The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour,” and moved on to direct TV programs “Startime,” “The Bell Telephone Hour” and “Sing Along With Mitch.” He also helmed live events including the “New Orleans Jazz Festival 1969,” “Johnny Cash and Friends” and “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
In 1967, Miller made his breakthrough in the music programming scene as the co-director of “The Belle of 14th Street,” a Barbra Streisand special on CBS. He went on to direct multiple specials for both Cash and Doug Henning as well as television showcases for Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Steve Martin, Sam Kinison, Kathie Lee Gifford, Steven Wright, Perry Como, Bob Hope, Bill Cosby, Rich Little, George Burns, the Osmond Family and Rodney Dangerfield.
Miller’s credits include directing the Grammys 15 times between the years of 1984 and 2009. He also served as a producer on the show for a number of those years, and continued on as a consulting producer as recently as 2016. He spent nearly as many years at the helm of the CMAs, working on the show 14 times between 1978 and 2004. He had an unbroken 11-year run directing the Tonys, from 1987-97, and continued on the show as a producer for several years after that.
“Walter was clearly the most unforgettable character I’ve ever met in a working capacity, and one of my closest friends outside the business,” Ken Ehrlich, the Grammys’ executive producer for 40 years, tells Variety. “When we were first put together in 1980 by Pierre Cossette to do the Grammys together, after one meeting with Walter, I had doubts that we could ever work together, but as the years went by, I not only grew to respect his abilities, which were considerable, but to love him as a mentor, a co-conspirator, and a friend. People who have known the both of us over the years see the connection, and by the way, it’s not always pretty. But through it all, whether he had his arms around me or his hands around my neck, we had one of the most wonderful, and obviously successful, partnerships over more than 30 years. He left an indelible mark on pretty much everyone he worked with, and as they say, they just don’t make ’em like Walter anymore.”
For his contribution to the CMA Awards, Miller was awarded the CMA President’s Award in 2007, and in 2009, he was bestowed with the CMA Irving Waugh Award to celebrate his service to the organization. Miller became the fifth recipient of the award, following Waugh, Frances Preston, Jo Walker-Meador and Cash.
“Walter Miller was my friend and mentor,” said CMA Awards executive producer Robert Deaton. “Everything I know about producing great television I learned from Walter Miller. Walter had a long list of accomplishments and credits and working with the biggest names in entertainment. However, I know that working in Nashville and with the CMA Awards was closest to his heart. He loved our artists, and in return we counted Walter as one of our own. Today we say thank you. You will be missed and rest in peace dear friend.”