Sumner Redstone, the media mogul and former chair of Viacom and CBS, whose legacy as a business titan was tarnished in his later years by public corporate battles and lurid claims from ex-girlfriends, has died. He was 97.
Redstone, who often boasted that would live forever, died Tuesday, according to a statement from National Amusements released Wednesday morning.
He was a media mogul who built his family’s drive-in theater chain into a global empire, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion.
In his 90s, he became the center of a jilted lover’s lawsuit that nearly cost his family his financial legacy, when his decades-younger ex-girlfriend claimed in court documents that he demanded a daily diet of steak and sex against his doctor’s orders, in a bid to call his competency into question.
The long-running legal battle that ensued put him at odds with long-time confidante Philippe Dauman but reunited him with his daughter Shari, from whom he had been estranged.
Sumner Redstone (above in 2012), the businessman and media magnate who formerly served as executive chairman of CBS and Viacom, has died. He was 97
Redstone is seen in 2013 with his former lovers Manuela Herzer (left) and Sydney Holland
Shari Redstone said in a statement: ‘My father led an extraordinary life that not only shaped entertainment as we know it today, but created an incredible family legacy. Through it all, we shared a great love for one another and he was a wonderful father, grandfather and great-grandfather. I am so proud to be his daughter and I will miss him always.’
The challenges to Redstone’s mental health resulted in him being replaced in 2016 as executive chairman at CBS by Les Moonves and at Viacom by Dauman, whom Redstone would later drop from the trust that was to determine the direction of CBS and Viacom after his death.
After legal and backroom wrangling that one observer likened to ‘Game of Thrones,’ the Redstone family ousted Dauman from Viacom in August 2016, ultimately replacing him with Robert Bakish. Dauman had been among those questioning Redstone’s mental capacity and his influence had waned after Redstone’s daughter, Shari, started taking a more active role in his business.
In recent years, Shari Redstone effectively controlled the empire with her father in seclusion at his expansive mansion in the gated Beverly Park enclave in the hills above Los Angeles, but other family members alleged he was manipulated by his daughter.
His granddaughter Keryn Redstone allied herself with the billionaire’s ex-girlfriend Manuela Herzer, who had been waging a battle to have the ailing mogul declared incompetent.
Since 2016, Shari pushed twice to merge CBS and Viacom. She’s also weathered a lawsuit aimed at diluting her family’s control of CBS, and a sexual misconduct scandal at CBS, which resulted in the September 2018 resignation of CEO Les Moonves. Viacom and CBS re-merged in 2019.
Shari Redstone and her son Tyler Korff will now take over two seats on a trustee board that controls the voting interest in the family business that holds the controlling stake in ViacomCBS, according to a source familiar with the matter.
ViacomCBS, which he led for decades, remembered Redstone for his ‘unparalleled passion to win, his endless intellectual curiosity, and his complete dedication to the company.’
Sumner Redstone controlled about 80 percent of the voting stock of ViacomCBS through his private holding company, National Amusements, originally founded as a movie theater chain by his father in 1936.
Redstone’s 80 percent stake will reportedly be divided in two after his passing, half for the benefit of his descendants, whose trustees will include Shari and her son as well as others with long ties to members of the family, including divorce lawyers for Redstone and his former wife, Phyllis, and a National Amusements executive.
The other trust will be for the benefit of Phyllis. There could be legal battles over the estate to come, as Redstone married and divorced a second wife after splitting with Phyllis.
Sumner Redstone is seen with his daughter Shari Redstone in 2012. Sumner Redstone died on Tuesday at the age of 97 after boasting that he would live forever
Sumner Redstone is seen in 1998 in the screening room at his family company National Amusements
Sumner Redstone’s top quotes
‘Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes its built on catastrophe.’
‘Sometimes divorce is better than marriage.’
‘The people who fear dying are people who are going to die. I’m not going to die.’
‘Patience is a virtue that I do not respect. If you’re patient, you’ll never go anywhere. It takes impatience to drive you to succeed.’
‘Content is king.’ — Redstone’s credo that he claimed he, rather than Bill Gates, coined
His fortune was most recently estimated at $3 billion in May of this year.
In November 2015, Redstone’s ex-girlfriend Manuela Herzer, who was 42 years younger than him, filed a lawsuit challenging his competency, claiming he had become ‘a living ghost’ and that his conversations consisted of little more than grunts.
In court filings, Herzer claimed that Redstone was obsessed with eating steak and ‘demands, to the extent he can be understood, to engage in sexual activity every day, even though Dr. Gold has repeatedly recommended that he abstain from daily sexual activity.’
Redstone’s lawyers called the claims ‘preposterous’ and a ‘despicable invasion of his privacy.’
In May 2016, a judge dismissed the lawsuit after the billionaire asserted in videotaped testimony that he didn’t want Herzer to play any role in his life, repeatedly referring to her as ‘f****** b****.’
Herzer appealed the judge’s ruling, and the parties settled in 2019.
Amid bitter disputes about his health and competency, Redstone was forced under shareholder pressure to resign as executive chairman of CBS on February 3, 2016 and CEO Les Moonves was appointed as his successor.
The following day, Viacom named CEO Philippe Dauman as his successor as executive chairman. Redstone gave up his voting position on the Viacom board in February 2017.
Redstone has not appeared publicly for years, and his health had long been at the center of speculation.
As the CBS and Viacom merger was underway in 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that Redstone had difficulty speaking, and relied upon an iPad that had buttons to play a recording of his voice saying ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘f*** you.’
Sumner Murray Redstone was born on May 27, 1923, in Boston to Belle and Michael Rothstein, the owner of a chain of drive-in movie theaters who later changed the family’s name to Redstone.
He graduated first in his class at Boston Latin High School, went through Harvard in three years and worked with an elite U.S. Army unit that cracked Japanese codes during World War Two.
After the war, he earned a law degree at Harvard and successfully pleaded a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He joined National Amusements, his family’s theater chain, in 1954, and became chief executive officer in 1967.
Sumner Redstone is seen in 1998 with his first wife Phyllis. She filed for divorce after 52 years of marriage and sought $3 billion according to her attorney
Summer Redstone and second wife Paula Fortunato are seen together in 2004 in North Hollywood, California
Sumner Redstone poses for a portrait, October 1997. He built Viacom into one of the world’s three largest media companies
In 1979, Redstone suffered severe burns in a fire at the Copley Plaza hotel, in Boston, surviving by hanging out of a third-floor window by his right hand, which was left permanently disfigured.
Known for his blunt talk, Boston accent and audacious risk taking, Redstone was in his 60s in 1987 when he bought Viacom for $3.4 billion with mostly borrowed money.
A few years later he beat out rival mogul Barry Diller to acquire Paramount for more than $10 billion, added CBS to the portfolio in 1999 in a deal valued at $37 billion.
His marriage to Phyllis Raphael ended in 1999 after 52 years. In 2003, he wed former schoolteacher Paula Fortunato, but the union ended by 2008.
Before his health deteriorated, Redstone had claimed to swim naked every day and always liked to be surrounded by beautiful young women.
‘With a striking head of orange hair, Redstone is a vainglorious, old-school egomaniac who has an operatic personal life that has been largely kept out of the media undoubtedly because he controls so much of it,’ author Michael Wolff wrote in New York magazine in 2002.
After decades spent building his empire, Redstone’s participation at corporate events became minimal in 2014 and he spoke only a few words on earnings calls. Fortune magazine reported he attended his last board meetings that year and cited a witness who said he dozed and drooled during it, which raised the question about whether he was fit to run the company.
Despite the concerns about his health, Redstone hung on to his chairmanship as long as possible. In June 2015, he told Vanity Fair in an email correspondence, ‘You should know that I am never retiring!!!’
Redstone’s legal battles with ex-lovers reunited him with his daughter Shari (right), from whom he had been estranged
Sumner Redstone holds a proclamation to his name before unveiling his star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California
Summer Redstone, then CEO of Viacom, poses September 3, 2002 in his Time Square office in New York
Later that year, the Wall Street Journal reported Redstone had suffered mini-strokes that made speaking difficult, although he remained mentally sharp.
Redstone’s death, which comes at a time the media landscape is enduring wrenching changes, thins the ranks of a group of media executives, including Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, who changed the world of news and entertainment with the companies they built.
Redstone displayed a penchant for forcing out top executives, including Viacom President Frank Biondi; Mel Karmazin, the CEO of CBS; and Tom Freston, who was canned as CEO of Viacom after losing a deal to acquire the social media network MySpace to Murdoch.
Asked in his last interview, in January 2014, with The Hollywood Reporter, about who might succeed him, Redstone exploded, ‘I will not discuss succession. You know why? I´m not going to die.’