Sumner Redstone, former CBS, Viacom chairman, dies at 97

Sumner Redstone - What you need to know

Sumner Redstone, the former chairman of CBS and Viacom has died.

He was 97.

Redstone started with a drive-in movie chain and turned that business into a media empire, The Associated Press reported.

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Under his control, Viacom, which he bought in a hostile takeover, expanded to own multiple cable TV channels like MTV and Comedy Central, as well as Paramount Pictures.

He always said “content is king” when it came to the company’s dominance.

Forbes estimated Redstone’s net worth on its most recent list at $4.6 billion, CNN reported. It was attributed to his ownership of Viacom and CBS, according to the AP.

He had challenges in life that he overcame. The most famous was when he survived a 1979 fire at Copley Plaza Hotel where he escaped the blaze by holding onto a third-floor window ledge. His right arm was inside and he almost severed his wrist. He had third-degree burns to more than half his body and was told he would never walk again. He proved doctors wrong and even started playing tennis by strapping his racket to his wrist, the AP reported.

Redstone was born to Michael and Belle Rothstein. The family changed their name to Redstone at the eventual mogul’s urging, CNN reported.

He graduated first in his class from Boston Latin School in 1940 and graduated from Harvard in less than three years. He then went on to work on an Army intelligence team in World War II to break Japan’s military codes.

After leaving the Army, he went to Harvard Law School, but gave up his law career to work at his father’s drive-in movie business in 1954. The drive-ins were the foundation in what would become a chain of multi-screen theaters under National Amusements Inc, the AP reported.

Not only did he buy Viacom from its founder for $10 billion in 1993, he also bought Blockbuster and in September 1999, he paid $34.5 billion for CBS.

In 2006, CBS and Viacom were split into two public companies but still under Redstone’s control.

But not all of his dealings were positive.

There were scandals that faced Redstone.

He pushed for an MTV show featuring a scantily-clad girl group, the Electric Barbarellas despite protests. There were phone calls of bribery offers. He even fought with his two children that were resolved when he named his daughter Shari Redstone his successor in the business. He also set a seven-person trust that had his daughter among the board that would take over the company upon his death.

He was sued by a former female companion, Manuela Herzer, after he kicked her out of his home. The lawsuit unveiled frequent demands for sex and steak, the AP reported. The companion called Redstone a “living ghost” sying that he had been hospitalized frequently and that left him with a feeding tube, catheter and severe speech limitations, the AP reported.

Herzer said he was under the influence of Shari Redstone, CNN reported.

The lawsuit was settled in 2019, CNN reported.

Shari Redstone attempted to merge CBS and Viacom after the 2006 split. It had been blocked, and she sued CBS in 2018 saying that CBS CEO Les Moonves tried to take her control away. Moonves was fired from the board after reports that he allegedly assaulted multiple women, allegations Moonves denies, CNN reported. In 2019, CBS and Viacom agreed to merge once again, the AP reported.

Shari Redstone released a statement after her father’s death, saying, according to CNN, “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.”