Thursday, August 13, 2020

Sumner M. Redstone, Chairman Emeritus of ViacomCBS, Dies at 97

ViacomCBS has announced that Sumner M. Redstone, Chairman Emeritus of ViacomCBS, and Chairman and CEO of National Amusements, the controlling shareholder of ViacomCBS, passed away at his residence in Los Angeles, California. He was 97.

Below is ViacomCBS' obituary paying tribute to the life and work of Sumner M. Redstone.


By Nicole Bitette

"Life should not be a passive exercise... If we disregard its opportunities, then we have denied not only ourselves but all those who could have been touched by our efforts.”

Sumner Redstone, Chairman Emeritus of ViacomCBS, and Chairman and CEO of National Amusements, the controlling shareholder of ViacomCBS, died at his residence in Los Angeles, Calif. He was 97.

The Boston native, Army veteran, and Harvard Law School graduate joined his father’s drive-in movie theater company, National Amusements, in 1957, where he began his lifelong career in the entertainment industry, serving as CEO since 1967. Redstone helped build the drive-in theater company into one of the world’s largest movie theater chains. Building off his start in the theater business, he became a prominent force in entertainment, contributing to TV, film, radio, distribution, and advertising—ultimately becoming a self-made billionaire. He famously coined the phrase “Content is King.”

He turned his commitment to the future of content into investments in Twentieth Century Fox and Columbia Pictures, which he sold in the early 1980s.

In 1987, National Amusements, Inc. acquired Viacom. At the time, Redstone said he viewed the company as being at the center of “a vast technological and global revolution that would change the habits of people all over the world.”

“Sumner Redstone was a brilliant visionary, operator and dealmaker, who single-handedly transformed a family-owned drive-in theater company into a global media portfolio. He was a force of nature and fierce competitor, who leaves behind a profound legacy in both business and philanthropy,” said ViacomCBS CEO and President Bob Bakish. “ViacomCBS will remember Sumner for his unparalleled passion to win, his endless intellectual curiosity, and his complete dedication to the company. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Redstone family today.”

Engineering the ViacomCBS Portfolio

Redstone served Viacom as Chairman from 1987 to 2016, and as CEO from 1996 to 2005. Under his leadership, Viacom acquired brands that make the ViacomCBS portfolio strong today—including MTV in 1985, Paramount Pictures in 1994, and BET in 2001.

Redstone also initiated the $39.8 billion merger with CBS in 2000, which Reuters described as a “marriage of media titans.” The companies later split in 2006, with Redstone serving as Executive Chairman of the Board for CBS until 2016. In December of 2019, Viacom and CBS merged once again.

Over the course of his career, Redstone served as a member of multiple entertainment organizations, including the Advisory Council for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation and on the Board of Trustees for The Paley Center for Media. He also served as the first Chairman of the Board of the National Association of Theatre Owners of America.

Commitment to Philanthropy

Beyond Redstone’s commitment to the entertainment business, he was a passionate philanthropist. He founded the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation in 1986 and, at the time of his death, had donated more than $260 million both through his foundation and personally.

“Life should not be a passive exercise… If we disregard its opportunities, then we have denied not only ourselves but all those who could have been touched by our efforts,” Redstone said during a commencement address at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 2002.

In 2007, he announced $105 million in charitable grants to fund research and care in cancer and burn recovery at Mass General, FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions in Washington, D.C., and the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Some of his other significant contributions include $20 million to Motion Picture & Television Fund in 2013, $2.5 million to Boston University College of Communication in 2014, and fellowships in his name for Public Service at his alma mater, Harvard School of Law. That same year, the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness was also established at George Washington University. Countless other donations have been made by Redstone to a number of organizations, including the Global Poverty Project, Literary Inc., Autism Speaks, and more.


R.I.P. Sumner M. Redstone, May 27, 1923 - August 11, 2020.

NickALive! sends its deepest condolences to Mr. Redstone's surviving family members and to everyone at ViacomCBS.

Official ViacomCBS press release:

ViacomCBS Issues Statement on the Passing of Sumner M. Redstone

NEW YORK--August 12, 2020--ViacomCBS Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAC; VIACA) mourns the passing of Sumner M. Redstone, its Chairman Emeritus, and Chairman and CEO of National Amusements, the controlling shareholder of ViacomCBS.

Bob Bakish, President and CEO of ViacomCBS, said: “Sumner Redstone was a brilliant visionary, operator and dealmaker, who single-handedly transformed a family-owned drive-in theater company into a global media portfolio. He was a force of nature and fierce competitor, who leaves behind a profound legacy in both business and philanthropy. ViacomCBS will remember Sumner for his unparalleled passion to win, his endless intellectual curiosity, and his complete dedication to the company. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Redstone family today.”

For nearly 30 years, Mr. Redstone led Viacom as Executive Chairman of the Board following National Amusements Inc.’s acquisition of a controlling stake in the company in 1987. He also held the position of CEO from 1996 until 2005, during which time Viacom merged with CBS Corporation in 2000. Upon the separation of the two companies in December 2005, Mr. Redstone served as Executive Chairman of the Boards of CBS and Viacom. In February 2016, Mr. Redstone assumed the role of Chairman Emeritus for both companies.

About ViacomCBS

ViacomCBS (Nasdaq: VIAC; VIACA) is a leading global media and entertainment company that creates premium content and experiences for audiences worldwide. Driven by iconic consumer brands, its portfolio includes CBS, Showtime Networks, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, BET, CBS All Access, Pluto TV and Simon & Schuster, among others. The company delivers the largest share of the U.S. television audience and boasts one of the industry’s most important and extensive libraries of TV and film titles. In addition to offering innovative streaming services and digital video products, ViacomCBS provides powerful capabilities in production, distribution and advertising solutions for partners on five continents. For more information about ViacomCBS, please visit and follow @ViacomCBS on social platforms.



Official National Amusements, Inc. press release:

Statement From National Amusements

NORWOOD, Mass.--August 12, 2020--It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Sumner M. Redstone, the self-made businessman, philanthropist and World War II veteran who built one of the largest collections of media assets in the world. He passed away yesterday at the age of 97.

Over the course of his distinguished life and career, Sumner played a critical role in shaping the landscape of the modern media and entertainment industry. At National Amusements, he transformed a regional theater chain into a world leader in the motion picture exhibition industry. Sumner was also a keen investor who took stakes in a variety of companies, including Viacom Inc. and CBS Corporation – today merged as ViacomCBS – which he built into prominent, international and industry-leading conglomerates in the media industry.

Sumner was a man of unrivaled passion and perseverance, who devoted his life to his belief in the power of content. With his passing, the media industry he loved so dearly loses one of its great champions. Sumner, a loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather, will be greatly missed by his family who take comfort knowing that his legacy will live on for generations to come.

About Sumner M. Redstone

Mr. Redstone was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 27, 1923 to Belle Ostrovsky and Max Rothstein. His father, who later changed his name to Michael Redstone, supported his family by peddling linoleum from the back of a truck. Eventually, Michael Redstone saved enough money to buy a drive-in movie theater in Valley Stream, Long Island. Following the success of this initial investment, Michael Redstone went on to acquire other theaters and nightclubs and create the Northeast Theater Corporation, later renamed National Amusements.

While his father developed his career as a business owner, Mr. Redstone distinguished himself as an exceptionally gifted student, graduating first in his class from the Boston Latin School in 1940 and earning a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1944, awarded by the University’s Special Board of Overseers. Mr. Redstone was selected to serve on an elite U.S. Army intelligence team responsible for breaking Japanese military and diplomatic codes during World War II due to his fluency in Japanese, Latin, French and German. Mr. Redstone served with this unit until the end of the war and received, among many honors, the Army Commendation Award and two commendations from the Military Intelligence Division in recognition of his service, contribution and devotion to duty.

After completing his military service, Mr. Redstone received an L.L.B. from Harvard University School of Law in 1947 – later amended to a Juris Doctorate – and began his career as a Law Secretary with the United States Court of Appeals and then as Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General. In 1951, Mr. Redstone was named Partner of the Washington D.C. law firm Ford, Bergson, Adams, Borkland & Redstone.

Three years later, in 1954, Mr. Redstone joined National Amusements and embarked on his celebrated, decades-long career in the entertainment industry. A skilled manager, he helped National Amusements expand to 59 screens by 1964 and 129 screens by 1974. He then began looking for growth opportunities and taking positions in companies specializing in content production. In line with his conviction that “content is king,” Mr. Redstone began accumulating stock in Twentieth Century Fox, Columbia Pictures and other content companies, all of which he turned over for significant profits when he sold his positions in the 1980s.

Mr. Redstone was especially passionate about his investment in Viacom and, seeing value in its youth-centric media holdings, purchased a controlling interest in the company in March 1987 for $3.4 billion. Mr. Redstone assumed the role of Chairman of Viacom and quickly oversaw a series of acquisitions that would make the company one of the top players in modern media, including the high-profile acquisitions of Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster Entertainment, DreamWorks SKG and CBS. In 1996, Mr. Redstone was appointed CEO of Viacom, a position he held through 2005. Mr. Redstone served as Chairman of Viacom and CBS until 2016, when he assumed the position of Chairman Emeritus at each company. CBS and Viacom announced an agreement to merge in August 2019 and completed the merger in December 2019, becoming ViacomCBS. Upon the completion of the transaction, Mr. Redstone assumed the role of Chairman Emeritus of the combined company.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Redstone served as a member of multiple entertainment-focused organizations, including the Advisory Council for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation and on the Board of Trustees for The Paley Center for Media. He also served as the first Chairman of the Board of the National Association of Theatre Owners of America.

Mr. Redstone was the recipient of numerous accolades and awards in recognition of his accomplishments:

  • 1965 – Served as the first Chairman of the Board of the National Association of Theater Owners
  • 1977-1981 – Served on the Presidential Advisory Committee of the Arts of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
  • 1984 – Appointed Director of the Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation
  • 1994 – Received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Boston University School of Law
  • 2001 – Authored “A Passion to Win” with Peter Knobler; the book reached #1 on that year’s Los Angeles Times’ Non-Fiction Bestsellers List
  • 2012 – Honored with a star on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • 2012 – The Sumner Redstone Building in the Paramount Pictures lot was dedicated in his honor

Beyond his business ventures, Mr. Redstone lectured widely, including at the University of San Francisco, Harvard Law School and Brandeis University. In 1982, he joined the faculty of the Boston University School of Law, where he created one of the nation’s first courses in entertainment law.

Mr. Redstone dedicated himself to civic and community affairs and made significant contributions to charities and other worthy causes around the world. In 2007, the Sumner M. Redstone Foundation announced charitable grants to fund research and patient care advancements at FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions, the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center, Massachusetts General Hospital and to the Cambodian Children’s Fund. In addition, Mr. Redstone made sizable donations to institutions of higher education, including funding the construction of The Sumner M. Redstone Building at the Boston University School of Law in 2012, and endowing The Sumner M. Redstone Fellowships in Public Service at Harvard Law School.

Mr. Redstone’s support of charitable organizations also included positions at the Board of Overseers of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, the Corporation of the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Board of Overseers of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Executive Board of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Board of the Jimmy Fund (Children’s Cancer Research Foundation), the Metropolitan Division of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Corporation of the New England Medical Center.

About National Amusements, Inc.:

National Amusements, Inc., is a world leader in the motion picture exhibition industry operating more than 950 movie screens in the U.S., U.K. and Latin America. National Amusements delivers a superior entertainment experience in theatres around the world under its Showcase, Cinema de Lux, Multiplex, SuperLux and UCI brands. Based in Norwood, Massachusetts, National Amusements is a closely held company operating under the third generation of leadership by the Redstone family. National Amusements is the parent company of ViacomCBS, Inc. National Amusements, directly and through subsidiaries, holds approximately 79.4% of the Class A (voting) common stock of ViacomCBS, constituting approximately 10.2% of the overall equity of the Company.


From The New York Times:

Sumner Redstone Dies at 97; Built Media Empire and Long Reigned Over It

Starting with a chain of drive-in movie theaters, Mr. Redstone negotiated, sued and otherwise fought to amass a domain that included CBS and Viacom.

Sumner M. Redstone, the billionaire entrepreneur who saw business as combat and his advancing years as no obstacle in building a media empire that encompassed CBS and Viacom, died on Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97.

His death was announced in a statement by National Amusements, the private theater chain company founded by his father. No cause was given, but an assistant said the death was not related to Covid-19.

Mr. Redstone had vowed never to give up the reins of his conglomerate, but in February 2016 he stepped away from managing it, and his daughter, Shari E. Redstone, with whom he had a contentious relationship for a time, took control of day-to-day affairs.

Beginning with a modest chain of drive-in movie theaters, Mr. Redstone negotiated, sued and otherwise fought to amass holdings that over time included CBS, the Paramount film and television studios, the publisher Simon & Schuster, the video retail giant Blockbuster and a host of cable channels, including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. At their peak, the businesses were worth more than $80 billion.

Toward the end of his life, he controlled about 80 percent of the voting stock in Viacom and CBS, presiding over both through National Amusements. And almost to the end, his grip was tight and his enthusiasm undiminished.

“Being a competitor of Sumner Redstone’s is a fate worse than death,” Barry Reardon, who oversaw distribution for Warner Brothers, a rival studio, told Premiere magazine in 1994. “He never lets up. He’s relentless.”

That kind of tenacity helped save Mr. Redstone’s life. At 55, he survived a fire that engulfed his Boston hotel room by clinging to a window ledge while half his body was scorched. “I think I was driven before, but out of that fire came most of the exciting things I have ever done,” he told Forbes magazine.

Mr. Redstone was a ripe 64 when he burst into the business limelight in 1987 by winning control of Viacom, a cable television operator at the time, from an investment group led by Viacom’s management. To acquire major companies, he frequently dueled with powerful, and much younger, entrepreneurs. In 1994, after a grueling struggle, he confounded Wall Street analysts by wresting Paramount from a heavily favored rival bidder, Barry Diller, who was almost 20 years his junior.

Well past 80, Mr. Redstone was running his businesses with little thought about retirement. One after another, associates who had been groomed to succeed him either resigned or were fired. In 1996, he dismissed his highly regarded chief executive, Frank Biondi Jr., and took the reins of Viacom himself. When critics suggested that at 72 he was too old for the top job, Mr. Redstone, at a news conference, compared himself to Bob Dole, the Republican candidate for president that year, who was the same age.

“If he can run America, believe me, I can run Viacom,” Mr. Redstone said.

At 83 and a billionaire several times over, he roiled the entertainment world again in August 2006 by emerging from luxurious semiretirement in Beverly Hills to sever ties with Paramount’s biggest star, Tom Cruise.

Mr. Redstone had been irritated by Mr. Cruise’s offscreen behavior — proselytizing for the Church of Scientology, denouncing psychiatry and jumping up and down on a sofa as a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s television show. He was also concerned that Mr. Cruise’s contract gave the actor a hefty chunk of the profits from his films.

About two weeks later, Mr. Redstone fired Thomas Freston, the chief executive at Viacom, saying he had not done enough to increase the company’s share price.

Besides being an empire builder, Mr. Redstone was an innovator. He was a pioneer in the wide-scale adoption of multiplex cinemas. He conceived a revenue-sharing arrangement with film companies that radically changed the economics of the video rental business by convincing Hollywood that video stores — just like movie theaters — should be allowed to split revenues with filmmakers rather than pay flat fees. He also devised deals that allowed him to limit the risks and to share expenses involved in film production with other studios and investors.

Mr. Redstone, who was a successful lawyer before becoming a businessman, was an unyielding negotiator. “I believe in taking every penny off the table,” he wrote in his 2001 autobiography, “A Passion to Win,” written with Peter Knobler.

When he was stymied by competitors or exasperated with big client companies, he did not hesitate to take them to court and almost invariably won or got them to settle on his terms. At one time or another he sued almost every major film studio and the leading cable operators. Using the courts as a weapon of business would become a signature move, helping him expand his empire.

“I would rather handle disagreements through discussion and accommodation,” Mr. Redstone wrote. “But if that fails, and it often does, litigation is an appropriate tool.”

In the end, new media trends and old age overcame him. A younger generation had turned increasingly toward video streaming rather than broadcast and cable television, and his obvious infirmities had weakened his ability to lead a business on so vast a scale.

A Boy From Boston

He was born Sumner Murray Rothstein in Boston on May 27, 1923, to Max and Belle (Ostrovsky) Rothstein. He grew up in the predominantly Jewish West End. His father at the time peddled linoleum from the back of a truck; his mother was a housekeeper.

Sumner was accepted to Boston Latin, the city’s leading public school, and drove himself hard there, in part to please his demanding father. “Whatever we did was not quite good enough,” he wrote in “A Passion to Win.” Throughout the book he emphasized his early ambition:

— “I got up every morning, took a streetcar to school, and from that moment on I lived in terror. I wanted to be No. 1 in my class, and I did nothing but study.”

— “All I had going for me was an education. We certainly didn’t have any money. The 10 cents a day I spent on round-trip streetcar fare was a significant sacrifice for my family, and I had to justify that sacrifice.”

— “I had to know my subjects cold, with not even the most minimal margin for error. There could be no slips now, no lapses, and there would be no mercy if I made them.”

— “I had no social life. I had no friends. I knew people only because I sat next to them in class or because they were my closest competitors for the school awards.”

When a bout of scarlet fever forced him to miss school for a month, he worried about falling behind academically. But he was a standout on the debate team and graduated first in his class — “with the highest grade point average in the 300-year history of Boston Latin,” he boasted without specifying the number.

It was during the summer after high school that his father changed the family name to Redstone. The family had been observant Jews, and Sumner had studied the Talmud, so he was surprised by the change. “It’s a much better name,” he quoted his father as saying. He enrolled at Harvard, on a scholarship, as Sumner Redstone.

With Harvard adding summer semesters during World War II, he completed his degree in three years. Skilled in languages, he was then invited to Washington to join a team of Army cryptographers in cracking Japanese military and diplomatic codes. He returned to Harvard after the war and received a law degree.

In 1947, Mr. Redstone married Phyllis Raphael, with whom he had his daughter, Shari, and a son, Brent. The newlyweds moved to San Francisco, where Mr. Redstone became a clerk with the United States Court of Appeals and later taught law at the University of San Francisco.

He went on to become a special assistant to Attorney General Tom C. Clark in Washington, where he litigated more than 50 cases. (Mr. Clark later served on the Supreme Court.)

Mr. Redstone and his first wife, Phyllis Raphael, in 1997. Credit: Bei/REX, via Shutterstock

In 1951, Mr. Redstone became a partner at a Washington law firm, Ford, Bergson, Adams, Borkland & Redstone. But though the practice was profitable, he abandoned it three years later to work for his father, who had saved enough money to buy a drive-in movie theater. He would add 11 more. They worked out of an office in Dedham, Mass., southwest of Boston. A younger brother, Edward, also worked for the company before going into banking.

Movie studios at the time did not lease first-run films to drive-ins, considering them low class. Putting his legal background to use, Mr. Redstone successfully sued the major studios to change that policy.

But with the popularity of his drive-in theaters in decline, Mr. Redstone ripped them down and used their cheap real estate on the outskirts of towns and cities for indoor cinemas. Beginning in 1962, he opened complexes with multiple cinema houses and named them multiplexes.

Profits, however, were being squeezed by the high fees the film studios were charging, prompting Mr. Redstone to turn to the courts once again, filing a major lawsuit in 1979 against Walt Disney, Columbia Pictures, Universal, United Artists, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. The suit accused the studios of “blind bidding,” a practice that forced theaters to pay large sums for the right to show new films, sight unseen.

He ultimately reached a settlement with the studios, which agreed to stop demanding disproportionate advances from movie theaters for money-losing films.

‘I Was Enveloped in Flames’

It was in 1979 that Mr. Redstone almost died in a fire at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, started by a disgruntled former hotel employee late at night, when most guests, including Mr. Redstone, were asleep.

“I was enveloped in flames,” he wrote. “The fire shot up my legs. The pain was searing.” He staggered to the window and hung from a ledge on an upper floor until firefighters rescued him. He suffered third-degree burns over 45 percent of his body, and it took five operations over several months to restore him to health.

Mr. Redstone acquired Viacom and its cable channels in 1987 by going deeply into debt and putting up the family movie-chain business as collateral. His financial burdens mounted when Time Inc., one of the largest cable operators in the country at the time, shut out Viacom’s channels from New York, Denver and other profitable markets. Mr. Redstone sued, forcing Time to settle on terms that he considered favorable.

He expanded Viacom vastly in 1994 when he beat out Mr. Diller for control of Paramount. He received word that the sale had gone through while dining late with colleagues at the Manhattan restaurant “21.” “Here’s to us who won,” Mr. Redstone said, toasting his guests with champagne ordered by his son.

He was 70 at the time, but he had no intention of stepping back. “Yesterday, I ran two and half miles on a treadmill, and I played tennis for an hour,” he told The New York Times.

Wall Street analysts insisted that Mr. Redstone would never recoup the almost $10 billion he had spent to acquire the studio. And when he fired Mr. Biondi, Viacom’s chief executive, in 1996, the company’s share price sank even more. The Wall Street Journal described Mr. Redstone as “an iron-fisted autocrat” for taking Mr. Biondi’s post. “Sumner’s Last Stand” was the headline of a cover article in Businessweek magazine in 1997.

But he sold what he considered Viacom’s noncore businesses and soon recovered most of the money he had spent on Paramount. “Paramount now looks like a bargain” for Mr. Redstone, Forbes declared in 1998.

A year later, Viacom was healthy enough to swallow up CBS in a $37.3 billion merger. Mel Karmazin, the CBS chief executive, then 56, agreed to stay on as Mr. Redstone’s second in command and heir apparent. But in 2004 Mr. Karmazin resigned, as Mr. Redstone, 81, again asserted full control over Viacom and announced plans to run his empire for as many as three more years.

By 2006, however, Mr. Redstone appeared to have retreated into semiretirement. After splitting off CBS as a separate company from Viacom, he stepped down as Viacom’s chief executive and appointed a longtime associate, Thomas Freston, 60, to the post. But within nine months Mr. Redstone had begun expressing frustration over Viacom’s sluggish stock price, and Mr. Freston was abruptly out, replaced by another loyal adviser, Philippe P. Dauman.

Only two weeks before, Mr. Redstone had announced that Paramount would not renew its longstanding contract with Mr. Cruise.

At the time of the Viacom-CBS breakup, Mr. Redstone named Leslie Moonves as the chief executive of the CBS Corporation. Mr. Moonves stayed in that role until September 2018, when he was ousted after more than a dozen women publicly accused him of sexual misconduct.

Toward the end of Mr. Moonves’s run as CBS chief executive, Shari Redstone made moves to recombine Viacom and CBS, leading to a high-profile battle for control of the two companies. That effort fizzled when Mr. Moonves departed, but in August 2019 Ms. Redstone got her wish when both companies announced that they had agreed to merge.

A Last Hurrah

In 2012, at a celebrity-packed party commemorating the centennial of Paramount, Mr. Dauman raised a glass to Mr. Redstone and repeated a toast his boss had made when the deal was sealed: “Here’s to us who won.”

The moment proved to be Mr. Redstone’s final hurrah. Over the next few years the rise of video streaming cut deeply into advertising revenues from traditional television broadcasting and cable. Viacom, which prided itself on its appeal to children and teenagers, was especially hard hit by this trend, as millions of young viewers opted to watch their entertainment on mobile phones and tablets.

Mr. Redstone was at odds with his children during the 2000s. His son, Brent, sued him in 2006, asserting that he was entitled to more than $1 billion in National Amusements, the family company that his father had used to control shares in Viacom and his other enterprises. The lawsuit was settled two years later when Mr. Redstone agreed to buy out his son’s interest in the company for about $240 million.

He also went through a rocky period with his daughter, who was vice chairwoman of both Viacom and CBS. By 2006 he had become publicly critical of her and said he had no plans to turn over the business to her. They later clashed over mounting debts, leading in 2009 to an announcement by National Amusements that it would sell off almost $1 billion in Viacom and CBS stock shares while retaining control of both holdings. But father and daughter later smoothed over their relationship.

“My father led an extraordinary life that not only shaped entertainment as we know it today, but created an incredible family legacy,” Ms. Redstone said in a statement on Wednesday.

In 2016, Mr. Dauman faced off against Mr. Redstone, who was in failing health, and his daughter over whether Mr. Redstone was still mentally competent to run the company. After a three-month battle in several courts, Mr. Dauman was forced out of Viacom and accepted a reported severance package of about $72 million.

In 1999, Mr. Redstone’s wife, Phyllis, filed for divorce after 52 years of marriage. He married Paula Fortunato, a 40-year-old former schoolteacher, in 2003. They divorced in 2009.

Mr. Redstone had several romantic entanglements later on. In a 2016 lawsuit, it emerged that he had reportedly given a former girlfriend, Sydney Holland, $70 million in cash and gifts before kicking her out of his house.

And in early 2019, Mr. Redstone settled a long legal battle with another former girlfriend, Manuela Herzer, who contended that he had lost his mental capacity. She was named a beneficiary in his will and stood to receive as much as $50 million and his Beverly Hills mansion. She had moved out several years earlier and was removed from his will, but her claims cast doubt on the future of his empire.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Redstone is survived by his son as well as five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Those who knew Mr. Redstone sometimes said that he behaved as if he thought he would live forever, as if time might slow others down but not him. In 2009, he told the talk show host Larry King, “I have no intention of ever retiring, or of dying.”


From Variety:

Sumner Redstone, Towering Media Mogul Who Helped Shape Modern Entertainment Industry, Dies at 97

Boston-bred executive built an industry giant with the acquisitions of Viacom, Paramount Pictures and CBS Corp.

Sumner Redstone, a towering figure in media who built his father’s drive-in theater business into an empire that included Viacom, Paramount Pictures and CBS Corp., only to see his legacy tarnished in his final years by corporate battles and sordid allegations by former girlfriends, died Aug. 11 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97.

National Amusements, the Redstone family’s private holding company that controls what is now ViacomCBS, confirmed that Redstone died Tuesday afternoon. After years of public battles with family members, Redstone had been in close contact over the past three years with his daughter, ViacomCBS chairman Shari Redstone, and others in his extended family.

“My father led an extraordinary life that not only shaped entertainment as we know it today, but created an incredible family legacy,” Shari Redstone told Variety in a statement. “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.”

National Amusements noted Sumner Redstone’s role in shaping the modern media landscape with his early career in the exhibition business, followed by his acquisitions of Viacom, Paramount Pictures and CBS Corp. He famously coined the phrase “content is king” to emphasize his interest in programming and production assets.

“Sumner was a man of unrivaled passion and perseverance, who devoted his life to his belief in the power of content,” National Amusements said. “With his passing, the media industry he loved so dearly loses one of its great champions. Sumner, a loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather, will be greatly missed by his family who take comfort knowing that his legacy will live on for generations to come.”

The question of Sumner Redstone’s legacy is much clearer than it would have been just a few years ago when Shari Redstone was embroiled in legal battles with some of her father’s longtime business associates over control of his business interests. Upon his death, Sumner Redstone’s assets will formally be taken over by the Redstone family trust that will manage his controlling stake in ViacomCBS. Shari Redstone and other family members are among the trustees.

The Boston-bred mogul who ruled his businesses with an iron fist was forced to step down as chairman of CBS and Viacom in early February 2016 amid pressure from shareholders and activists questioning his mental capacity. Redstone famously vowed he would live forever, so he wouldn’t bother picking his successor. He served as ViacomCBS chairman emeritus and chairman-CEO of National Amusements until the end.

“Sumner Redstone was a brilliant visionary, operator and dealmaker, who single-handedly transformed a family-owned drive-in theater company into a global media portfolio,” said ViacomCBS president-CEO Bob Bakish. “He was a force of nature and fierce competitor, who leaves behind a profound legacy in both business and philanthropy. ViacomCBS will remember Sumner for his unparalleled passion to win, his endless intellectual curiosity, and his complete dedication to the company. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Redstone family today.”

In 2016, a drawn-out legal battle for control of Viacom pitted his daughter, Shari Redstone, against his one-time protege, Philippe Dauman, with former girlfriends Manuela Herzer and Sydney Holland in key supporting roles. In keeping with her father’s tenacious example, Shari Redstone prevailed in what at times became down-and-dirty brawls with her father’s former mistresses, Dauman and former CBS chief Leslie Moonves.

As late as October 2015, Sumner Redstone was said to be demanding a daily diet of steak and sex, according to court documents filed by Herzer. He indulged those appetites despite mostly being bedridden, fed through a tube, surrounded by around-the-clock caretakers and unable to speak intelligibly because of a severe speech impediment. He was a shadow of the powerhouse who once out-dueled fellow-magnates Barry Diller and John Malone to take control of Paramount Pictures.

Redstone was among the last of a breed, a strong-willed in the mold of William Randolph Hearst and William Paley, who may be remembered as much for the battles he fought as for the successes he achieved in the entertainment business. He amassed some of the best-known holdings in the industry, including CBS, Paramount Pictures, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET and Showtime.

With his six-foot frame, shock of orange hair, Boston brogue and billionaire’s bearing, Redstone in his heyday of the 1980s and ’90s cut quite a figure in Hollywood’s business and social circles. He was respected by fellow moguls such as Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner for his willingness to bet big on mergers and acquisitions and to speak his mind. He was feared by many who passed through Viacom’s doors as a demanding boss who paid slavish attention to the company’s stock price. And he had an appetite for the high life, particularly as it related to female companions.

Redstone was a prominent exhibitor who had been a pioneer of the multiplex concept for movie theaters in the 1960s. He bought and sold at a profit stakes in 20th Century Fox, MGM/United Artists and Columbia Pictures before he set his sights on building his own studio empire.

Redstone became a well-known figure in Hollywood with his 1987 acquisition of Viacom in a leveraged buyout valued at $3 billion. Six years later he waged a hard-fought war to land Paramount Pictures for $10 billion, and in 1999 he clinched a deal with Westinghouse to take over CBS. That deal put CBS and Viacom under the same corporate roof — until Redstone decided that Viacom’s stock was undervalued. He split up them back into separate entities in 2006.

Redstone was a fighter by nature, and the tally of executives who battled with him, both from inside his companies and elsewhere, is extensive, including Wayne Huizenga, Frank Biondi, Mel Karmazin, Tom Freston, Jonathan Dolgen, Diller and finally Dauman, his longtime lawyer and business consiglieri. Redstone famously publicly dropped Tom Cruise from a lucrative deal at Paramount in 2006 because he felt the actor’s unusual behavior had hurt the ticket sales for “Mission: Impossible III.”

Redstone often had stormy relations with his family, including his brother and his children, Shari and Brent. He successfully bought out his son’s share of the family business but failed to get his daughter to do the same despite a $1 billion offer. His marriage to Phyllis Raphael ended in 1999 after 52 years. In 2003, he wed former schoolteacher Paula Fortunato, but the union was over by 2008.

Redstone’s final years were marked by tabloid eruptions about various mistresses and family members, who fell in and out of favor at Redstone’s expansive home in the gated Beverly Park enclave in the hills above Los Angeles. Long-time companion Herzer and some-time girlfriend Holland reportedly received $150 million in cash and assets over a five-year period. Redstone spurned both in 2015 and his lawyers vowed the following year to go to court to attempt to recover the gifts.

Herzer’s lawsuit, filed in November 2015 became the first in a series of nasty legal challenges that defined Redstone’s final days. The Argentina-born socialite lost the case in May 2016 when a Los Angeles judge turned aside her request to be reinstalled as the ultimate overseer of Redstone’s health care. Herzer and Redstone’s attorneys fought it out for another 18 months before Herzer settled in January 2019 by paying Redstone $3.25 million for gifts the mogul had given her over the years.

Importantly, the Herzer case also cemented the reemergence of daughter Shari Redstone in her father’s life. After the court decision, Shari became an even more regular presence. Her camp said the rapprochement was possible because Redstone’s greedy and controlling female companions had finally been removed from his life. The “other women,” in turn, said it was Shari Redstone who was exerting undue influence over her increasingly frail father — a charge leveled against Shari by Herzer, Dauman and Moonves.

The image of the twilight Sumner Redstone — glassy-eyed and unable to express his abundant opinions — marked a sad departure from his younger self. By the mid-1980s, he saw the burgeoning value of cable television and went after Viacom. He invested freely in executive talent and stars — so long as they delivered. And he never ceased to be a cheerleader for the movie business where he got his start.

The depth of Redstone’s ambition and drive may be explained by an earlier incident in which he cheated death. In 1979, he was caught in a hotel fire in Boston and was burned on more than 45% of his body as he hung from a window ledge. He wasn’t expected to live. But after 60 hours of intense surgeries, Redstone recovered. “I can say with certainty that my will to win, my tenacity, had a lot to do with my recovery,” he wrote in his 2001 memoir “A Passion to Win.”

Trained as a lawyer, Redstone was fervently litigious throughout his career, especially on antitrust issues, dating back to a landmark lawsuit in 1958 in which his National Amusements theater company accused the major studios of conspiring to avoid offering movies fairly to all exhibitors. In 1981, the company sued Disney’s Buena Vista over the practice of blind bidding, in this case, for the movie “The Black Hole”; the studio had required huge sums from theaters upfront, while exhibitors did not know what others were offering. Disney eventually settled, and the practice of blind bidding went away. In 1989, Redstone sued Time Inc. for not affording carriage to Viacom’s Showtime on its cable systems, which carried Time’s own HBO channel. Redstone eventually prevailed: Showtime was given distribution and Viacom received cash and other benefits.

In the digital era, he personally directed Viacom’s strategy to wage copyright infringement war against Google’s YouTube when he realized how widely and quickly clips and pirated programs from Viacom channels were popping up on the Internet giant’s archive. Viacom’s years-long fight helped spur YouTube to make concessions to copyright owners by taking down videos when informed of infringement violations.

For all his years in Hollywood, Redstone never lost his Boston Brahmin accent or his New England toughness. Long after age would dictate that his hair turn gray, Redstone maintained a deep-orange hue atop his head.

Born Sumner Rothstein (the family name was changed when he was 17), he was the son of an immigrant aspiring entrepreneur father who eventually came to own local nightclubs, including the Boston branch of the famous Latin Quarter. His father bought his first drive-in on Long Island in 1934.

Redstone was accepted into the elite Boston Latin School, where he graduated first in his class. He entered Harvard College but left to enlist in the armed forces, where he served in an intelligence unit decoding Japanese messages during World War II. He returned to civilian life and obtained his law degree from Harvard. Redstone managed to shake himself loose of the family’s theater business and was a law secretary for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and then a special assistant to the U.S. attorney general. He then became a partner in the law firm of Ford, Bergson, Adams, Borkland and Redstone before returning to the family business.

But by 1954, Redstone returned to the family fold of what was then New England Drive In Theaters. He tackled the business with characteristic ambition, implementing an expansion plan by buying underlying property to the theaters he had acquired or built. In 1967, he joined the Massachusetts-based exhibitor National Amusements as president. He reorganized the company that grew in the following decade to become one of the 10 largest theater owners in the U.S., with more than 600 locations. The privately held National Amusements remained the holding company for Redstone’s controlling stakes in CBS and Viacom, among other investments.

Concerned that exhibition was not growing fast enough, Redstone began investing in media in the early 1980s, scoring profits from his minority stakes in Fox, Columbia MGM/UA and Orion Pictures. He soon became a billionaire and one of Forbes’ richest men in the U.S.

But that was not enough.

In 1987, he began his bold takeover of Viacom, which owned the MTV Networks, Nickelodeon, Showtime as well as cable systems, TV and radio stations; the move was seen as an almost foolhardy risk for the New England theater owner. But Redstone prevailed after a protracted six-month battle. He borrowed most of the money for the leveraged buyout. He would later take the company and its debt public, also considered a highly risky move.

Redstone eventually moved to New York to work with Viacom chief Frank Biondi. He turned over the family’s theater business to his son-in-law, Ira Korff. After seemingly attempting to buy all of Orion Pictures, he got involved in a battle with Metromedia giant John Kluge. He lost this one but made a handsome profit from his sale of his stock to Kluge. He then claimed he was not interested in Orion, consuming himself with running his new media empire.

But Redstone had long coveted a Hollywood studio and, in 1993, the opportunity arose for him to act on that desire. His $7.5 billion offer to buy Paramount led to a battle with former Fox and Paramount CEO Barry Diller and his ally, cable mogul John Malone. When it seemed that Redstone had lost to Diller, who had run up his bid to about $9.5 billion, Redstone bounced back with a $10 billion bid.

Diller folded, and Redstone had Paramount.

The Paramount bid had driven down the price of Viacom stock from the mid-$60s to the mid-$30s, jeopardizing a $1 billion bid for Blockbuster Entertainment. Redstone wanted to make movies at Par, show them on his cable channels and rent them out at Blockbuster. He also managed to buy Blockbuster. But a decade later, in 2004, Viacom spun off the business and took a $1.3 billion writedown on the value of the video chain.

The most transformative deal of Redstone’s career, though, was his acquisition in 2000 of CBS from its parent Westinghouse. It was at the height of the era of the large media conglomerate. That same year, AOL purchased Time Warner to form the largest media company in the world by revenues. But the CBS network, its local TV and radio stations never made for a good fit with Viacom’s high-flying cable properties, in the eyes of Wall Street. At the same time, Redstone’s relationship with CBS topper Mel Karmazin, who became Viacom president, continued to deteriorate until Karmazin resigned in June 2004. Leslie Moonves, the executive who spearheaded the revival of the Eye network in the previous decade, was handed the reins following Karmazin’s departure.

In 2005, Redstone made the decision to split apart his media company and to serve as chairman of the two separate entities, both controlled by National Amusements. Redstone anticipated the de-consolidation trend in media that would later be followed by Time Warner and Cablevision Systems, among others. His hope was that the stock price of both CBS and Viacom would benefit by allowing investors to more tightly focus on broadcast or cable assets.

After the split, Moonves remained CEO of CBS while former MTV Networks chief Tom Freston became CEO of Viacom. A year later, Redstone shocked the industry when he abruptly fired Freston for what many believed was Redstone’s frustration over Viacom’s failure to win social networking site MySpace. In retrospect, it’s clear that Viacom dodged a bullet as News Corp. bought MySpace for $580 million in 2005 and sold it in 2011 for $35 million. In Freston’s place, Redstone placed his longtime lawyer, Dauman.

The issue of succession was not one Redstone ever addressed in public. The frequency of the question as his years advanced spurred his famous vow to “live forever.” The picture was further muddied when he had a falling out with his daughter, Shari, who served as president of National Amusements and whom many figured would take over for her father. But Redstone’s grip on CBS and Viacom — he controlled nearly 80% of the voting shares in each — allowed him to wave off pressure from investors to detail a specific plan following his death.

As part of his divorce settlement with his first wife, Phyllis, it was disclosed that all of Redstone’s stock would be left to his grandchildren. The Redstone Family Trust will inherit National Amusements assets and be run on behalf of the grandchildren by a group of seven trustees.

Amid the legal battles Herzer, Holland and Dauman, Shari Redstone began to exert more influence as Viacom’s fortunes declined. She brought new board members into Viacom and was instrumental in selecting Bakish, who was formerly Viacom International Media Networks, as president and CEO in December 2016. Shari Redstone told friends and colleagues how important Viacom was to her father and how much she wanted to see it restored to health.

After years of on-again, off-again negotiations, Shari Redstone succeeded in bringing Viacom and CBS Corp. back together in a merger completed in December 2019, led by Bakish. In September 2018, Moonves was ousted as chairman-CEO of CBS Corp. after also battling Shari Redstone for control of CBS and after allegations of past sexual misconduct surfaced.

A longtime philanthropist, Redstone gave generously throughout his career to causes ranging from burn recovery research to the Cambodian Children’s Fund to Autism Speaks. He consistently made Forbes’ magazine list of the wealthiest people in the world. In 2012, Paramount renamed its Administration Building the Sumner Redstone Building in a dedication ceremony.

In closing out his memoir, Redstone wrote: “Chronological age has little to do with intellectual capacity, the ability to work, the ability to lead. In fact, I often surprise my younger colleagues by being the first to accept and, indeed, suggest new ideas and new agendas when the assumption is I will hold on to the old ones like a bulldog …. I still want to be No. 1.”


Originally published: Wednesday, August 12, 2020 at 17:56 BST.

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