Sumner Redstone did not know the word pension. Within months of taking a step back in 2006 at the age of 83, he was once more firmly in control of his media empire. After 14 years of collaboration with Tom Cruise, in which blockbuster on blockbuster was stacked, film company Paramount showed him the door. “It has nothing to do with his acting skills, he’s great,” said Redstone, who could no longer watch his star actor’s behavior off-set. Cruise caused a sensation at the time by jumping on the couch on the Oprah Winfrey talk show and became increasingly active for the Church of Scientology. Redstone foresaw that those strays would result in fewer movie goers.
“I have no intention of ever retiring or dying,” Redstone told talk show host Larry King in 2009. Still, Redstone (97) died on Tuesday, National Amusements – his family’s movie theater chain – reported Wednesday “with great sadness”.
Redstone built a gigantic entertainment empire from scratch. In 1987, he took over the cable company Viacom, taking on heavy debts and using the family’s cinema chain as collateral. This was followed by TV station CBS, film studio Paramount, publisher Simon & Schuster, video rental giant Blockbuster and a load of cable TV stations including Nikelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central. At their peak, his companies were worth more than 80 billion dollars (68 billion euros), it was calculated The New York Times. Redstone was worth $ 4.6 billion last year, according to business magazine Forbes.
Such wealth was not in the offing when Sumner Rothstein (his father later changed the family surname) was born in Boston in 1923. Father sold linoleum, mother was a housekeeper. “We had no money. The ten cents I had to pay for the bus to school every day was a sacrifice for my family. ” The pressure Redstone put on itself to perform paid off. He says he passed with the highest grade average ever and was admitted to Harvard.
During World War II, he was asked to join the cryptographers team tasked with cracking Japanese diplomatic and military codes. He then obtained a law degree at Harvard. The entertainment industry was still a long way off at the time. In his early years, Redstone taught law in San Francisco and was an attorney at a Washington law firm.
In the mid-1950s, he went to work for his father who had bought a drive-in cinema with savings. Eleven more were bought with the help of Redstone. In the 1960s he closed the drive-ins and built the first multiplex cinemas, theaters with many halls, on the same spot.
It was one of the inventions that earned Redstone the reputation of an innovator. Redstone (two children, divorced twice) was also known as a rock-hard entrepreneur. One who turned every dime and dragged counterparties into a long lawsuit without blushing or blushing. He said he preferred to resolve disagreements through conversations. “But if that fails, as is often the case, then a lawsuit is a very suitable tool.”
Redstone had arranged the share structure at Viacom and CBS in such a way that he remained in control even at an advanced age. He couldn’t let go. That had been the case since he survived a hotel fire in Boston in 1979 half-burnt by hanging from the door frame for a long time. “The pain was terrible but I refused to let go. Because that would have been my death. ”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 13 August 2020
A version of this article also appeared in nrc.next on August 13, 2020