Sumner Redstone, ex CBS and Viacom chairman, dies at 97

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

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

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

Redstone is seen in 2013 with his former lovers Manuela Herzer (left) and Sydney Holland

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 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 with his daughter Shari Redstone in 2012. Sumner Redstone died on Tuesday at the age of 97 after boasting that he would live forever

In August 2015, Redstone split with his live-in girlfriend, Sydney Holland (right in 2013), after five years together

In August 2015, Redstone split with his live-in girlfriend, Sydney Holland (right in 2013), after five years together

In August 2015, Redstone split with his live-in girlfriend, Sydney Holland (right in 2013), after five years together

Manuela Herzer, the former girlfriend of Sumner Redstone, is seen in 2016 heading back into court where she was suing to be reinstated as the person in charge of Redstone's health care in Los Angeles

Manuela Herzer, the former girlfriend of Sumner Redstone, is seen in 2016 heading back into court where she was suing to be reinstated as the person in charge of Redstone's health care in Los Angeles

Manuela Herzer, the former girlfriend of Sumner Redstone, is seen in 2016 heading back into court where she was suing to be reinstated as the person in charge of Redstone’s health care in Los Angeles

Sumner Redstone is seen in 1998 in the screening room at his family company National Amusements

Sumner Redstone is seen in 1998 in the screening room at his family company National Amusements

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 

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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 poses for a portrait, October 1997. He built Viacom into one of the world's three largest media companies

Sumner Redstone poses for a portrait, October 1997. He built Viacom into one of the world's three largest media companies

Sumner Redstone poses for a portrait, October 1997. He built Viacom into one of the world’s three largest media companies

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

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

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

Summer Redstone and second wife Paula Fortunato are seen together in 2004 in North Hollywood, California

Summer Redstone and second wife Paula Fortunato are seen together in 2004 in North Hollywood, California

Sumner Redstone and his then-girlfriend Sydney Holland attend an event in Los Angeles in 2013

Sumner Redstone and his then-girlfriend Sydney Holland attend an event in Los Angeles in 2013

Sumner Redstone and his then-girlfriend Sydney Holland attend an event in Los Angeles in 2013

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

Redstone's legal battles with ex-lovers reunited him with his daughter Shari (right), from whom he had been estranged

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

Sumner Redstone holds a proclamation to his name before unveiling his star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California

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

Summer Redstone, then CEO of Viacom, poses September 3, 2002 in his Time Square office in New York

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.’ 

Sumner Redstone’s extraordinary life: From an army cryptographer to a womanizing, media tycoon who boasted that he’d live forever after surviving a deadly hotel inferno and a prostate cancer battle

Sumner Redstone in 1988, after he took over Viacom and while he was making a play for Paramount Pictures

Sumner Redstone in 1988, after he took over Viacom and while he was making a play for Paramount Pictures

Sumner Redstone in 1988, after he took over Viacom and while he was making a play for Paramount Pictures 

Sumner Redstone’s death on Tuesday comes after a colorful life that began humbly in Boston and saw him rise bombastically through the TV and movie world, collecting film studios and cable conglomerates all while juggling two marriages, a string of messy affairs, family feuds and mammoth business deals.   

The ViacomCBS giant died aged 97, his family revealed on Tuesday, after a sad existence in recent years. 

After being hospitalized in 2014 with pneumonia and having ingested food in his lungs, he spent much of the last six years unable to speak. 

He communicated through an iPad and was cared for round-the-clock by nurses who have claimed he was often reduced to tears and screaming by an ex-girlfriend, Sydney Holland, who they say tried to keep him from his family. 

That life in his final days is a far cry from the trail he blazed in the world of entertainment over the last 50 years. 

Born Sumner Rothstein in Boston in 1923, his father Max sold linoleum from the back of a truck and his mother was a housekeeper. When he was a teenager, his father changed the family name to Redstone.  

Redstone was dismayed and thought his father was trying to abandon their Jewish heritage. Friends close to the family have since suggested that Max did not want the family to be associated with the famous gangster, Arnold Rothstein, who fixed the world series. 

After high school, he enrolled at Harvard, on a scholarship, and graduated within three years. He was so skilled in languages that he was invited to Washington during World War II to work as an army cryptographer to decipher Japanese military codes. 

In 1947, Redstone married his first wife, Phyllis. They welcomed their children Shari and Brent and the family lived for a time in San Francisco, where he worked in a law firm and later teaching at a university. 

Redstone’s first foray into the world of TV and movies came in 1954, when he abandoned his law career to join his father who had saved enough money to buy a drive-in movie theater. 

Together and with the contribution of Sumner’s brother, they bought 11 more. 

Redstone married his passion for movies with his legal expertise to sue film studios which, at the time, didn’t allow drive-ins to lease first-run films.

In the early 1960s, as the appetite for drive-in theaters declined, he tore them down and started building multiplexes in their places.

Redstone became CEO of his father’s company – National Amusements Inc – in 1964. For the next several years, he invested on he side in studios but his quickly ascending career was brutally halted in 1979 in a hotel fire.  

In 1979, Redstone was staying at The Boston Copley Plaza when a fire tore through the hotel. He was staying with his mistress and escaped by clinging on to a window ledge as flames burned his hands

In 1979, Redstone was staying at The Boston Copley Plaza when a fire tore through the hotel. He was staying with his mistress and escaped by clinging on to a window ledge as flames burned his hands

In 1979, Redstone was staying at The Boston Copley Plaza when a fire tore through the hotel. He was staying with his mistress and escaped by clinging on to a window ledge as flames burned his hands

Redstone was rescued from the hotel on a ladder. He later wrote in his autobiography: 'The fire shot up my legs. The pain was searing. I was being burned alive'

Redstone was rescued from the hotel on a ladder. He later wrote in his autobiography: 'The fire shot up my legs. The pain was searing. I was being burned alive'

Redstone was rescued from the hotel on a ladder. He later wrote in his autobiography: ‘The fire shot up my legs. The pain was searing. I was being burned alive’

Redstone was in the hotel fire with his then mistress, Desla Winer. She escaped with fewer injuries. The pair remained friends for years and are pictured in

Redstone was in the hotel fire with his then mistress, Desla Winer. She escaped with fewer injuries. The pair remained friends for years and are pictured in

Sumner Redstone with his first wife, Phyllis, in 1997. The pair were married for 52 years, during which time he had several affairs, before they divorced in 1999

Sumner Redstone with his first wife, Phyllis, in 1997. The pair were married for 52 years, during which time he had several affairs, before they divorced in 1999

Redstone was in the hotel fire with his then mistress, Desla Winer (together, left). She escaped with fewer injuries. The pair remained friends for years. He was married at the time to his first wife, Phyllis (together, right in 1997). The pair were married for 52 years, during which time he had several affairs, before they divorced in 1999

Redstone was staying at The Copley Plaza with his mistress, Delsa Winer, when a fire tore through the building. He was 55 at the time.

He climbed out through the window and clung to the window ledge as flames burned his hand and 45 percent of his body until he was rescued by fire fighters. 

‘The fire shot up my legs. The pain was searing. I was being burned alive,’ he wrote in his autobiography. 

Redstone had to undergo five surgeries but nothing could correct the damage to one of his hands. He would later say that he felt lucky to be alive. 

In 1987, he went after Viacom, his biggest business play to date. He bought it was $3.4billion. Next, he bought Paramount in 1993 for $8.2billion. 

CBS was folded into Viacom in 1999 through a stock merger worth $37billion – the largest deal in media history at the time. He separated the pair in 2006 and put Les Moonves in charge of CBS. 

Shari brought the two companies back together with her coup over the last few years which resulted in the ViacomCBS merger, a $30billion deal.

Redstone circa 1981, in another portrait shot by The Boston Globe

Redstone circa 1981, in another portrait shot by The Boston Globe

A portrait of Redstone shot by the Boston Globe in 1986

A portrait of Redstone shot by the Boston Globe in 1986

Redstone circa 1981, in another portrait shot by The Boston Globe (left) and in 1986 (right). By then, he’d recovered from the fire injuries and was quickly charging ahead with buying up movie studios 

Redstone married New York City teacher Paula Fortunato in 2003

Redstone married New York City teacher Paula Fortunato in 2003

Redstone married New York City teacher Paula Fortunato in 2003

Redstone married New York City teacher Paula Fortunato in 2003

Wife number two: Redstone married New York City teacher Paula Fortunato in 2003. The pair were married were five years before he filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences, in 2008. They divorced in 1999. Under the terms of their prenuptial agreement, she got $5million – $1million for every year they were married 

Sumner, at the time of his death, owned 80 percent of the company and Shari owns 20 percent. 

His shares will be divided now into two trust; one for his two children – Shari and Brent – and their kids, and one for his first wife, Phyllis. 

Phyllis remained married to him until 1999 – staying by his side throughout many affairs, including with Winer, who he was caught in the fire with. 

Three years after divorcing Phyllis, and at the age of 79, he married 40-year-old New York City public school teacher Paula Fortunata. 

They were married for five years before Redstone filed for divorce. The pair had a pre-nuptial agreement in place which awarded her $1million for every year they were married.

It was during those years that Manuela Herzer, one of the ex-girlfriends he accused of stealing $150million from him, claims they cemented their relationship. 

In court documents, she said they were close friends and confidantes since 1999. Herzer worked in his home while he was in a relationship with Sydney Holland.  

Details of their complicated relationships became public in 2015, after he’d thrown both women out of his home. 

By then, his health had all but diminished and his family, namely Shari, feared for how the women were controlling him. 

In 2014, Redstone’s health took a drastic turn for the worse when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. 

Redstone with Bill Clinton during Clinton's presidency in 1996. He remained friends with the Clintons for years and fundraised for their charity enthusiastically

Redstone with Bill Clinton during Clinton's presidency in 1996. He remained friends with the Clintons for years and fundraised for their charity enthusiastically

Redstone with Bill Clinton during Clinton’s presidency in 1996. He remained friends with the Clintons for years and fundraised for their charity enthusiastically 

Redstone boasted famously that he'd never die. In an  interview with Larry King (above) he said: ''The people who fear dying are people who are going to die. I’m not going to die.'

Redstone boasted famously that he'd never die. In an  interview with Larry King (above) he said: ''The people who fear dying are people who are going to die. I’m not going to die.'

Redstone boasted famously that he’d never die. In an  interview with Larry King (above) he said: ”The people who fear dying are people who are going to die. I’m not going to die.’

In 2006, Redstone separated CBS from Viacom. He'd folded it into Viacom as part of a $37billion merger but when the Viacom stock price started stagnating, he took them apart again and put Les Moonves in charge of CBS. Moonves is shown with him in 2013. He was ousted from CBS during the #MeToo movement as allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. The two men are shown with Moonves' wife, Julie Chen, and Redstone's then-girlfriend, Sydney Holland. It was one of his final outings before his health took a drastic downturn

In 2006, Redstone separated CBS from Viacom. He'd folded it into Viacom as part of a $37billion merger but when the Viacom stock price started stagnating, he took them apart again and put Les Moonves in charge of CBS. Moonves is shown with him in 2013. He was ousted from CBS during the #MeToo movement as allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. The two men are shown with Moonves' wife, Julie Chen, and Redstone's then-girlfriend, Sydney Holland. It was one of his final outings before his health took a drastic downturn

In 2006, Redstone separated CBS from Viacom. He’d folded it into Viacom as part of a $37billion merger but when the Viacom stock price started stagnating, he took them apart again and put Les Moonves in charge of CBS. Moonves is shown with him in 2013. He was ousted from CBS during the #MeToo movement as allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. The two men are shown with Moonves’ wife, Julie Chen, and Redstone’s then-girlfriend, Sydney Holland. It was one of his final outings before his health took a drastic downturn 

He’d ingested food into his lungs and by the time he emerged from the hospital, could no longer speak. 

Redstone had such difficulty speaking in the past several years that he has had to communicate with an iPad loaded with recordings from past interviews along with buttons for ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘f*** you’. 

Shari wrote in emails to her relatives that the gilrfriends tried to keep her and other members of the family out of the home and that her father’s nurses told her they filled his head with claims that his children and grandchildren didn’t love him.  

‘I just called to tell him that I love him and that I would be there tomorrow and all he kept saying was, ‘Leave Sydney and Manuela alone,”‘ Shari wrote to her children, according to an email obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. 

‘He said it 100 times. He was not interested in the fact that I love him or that [her son] Tyler and I were coming out,’ she went on. 

Shari and her son went to the home the next day but were asked to leave at Sydney’s instruction.   

Joseph Octaviano, one of Sumner’s nurses, later emailed Shari, saying: ‘One time Manuela told your dad that none of his family loves him except them.’ 

Sumner had given both Holland and Merzer tens of millions of dollars throughout their relationships. He begged Shari not to go after the women for it, asking her to give him ‘peace of mind’. 

In 2015, his household staff and nurses filed a police report alleging that the two women had been emotionally and financially abusing him. 

It drew Shari into a fight to defend her ailing father, with whom she’d been at war with for decades.

Disturbing details of how they abused him emerged in emails from the staff. They told of hearing him cry and scream when Sydney tried to stop him from seeing his grandchildren or great-grandchildren. 

Eventually, a judge sided with Shari. 

The two women now are not thought to have any claim to Redstone’s private wealth – estimated to be some $3billion – or ViacomCBS shares. 

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