Sumner Redstone, a towering media figure who converted his father’s drive-in theater business into an empire that included Viacom, Paramount Pictures and CBS Corp., has died. He was 97.
Redstone died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles after a lengthy illness, said National Amusements, the Redstone family’s private holding company, which controls what is now ViacomCBS.
“My father led an extraordinary life that not only shaped entertainment as we know it today, but created an incredible family legacy,” Shari Redstone, one of the multiple personalities with whom Redstone had high-profile legal battles before the two reconciled,” said in a statement Wednesday morning. “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.”
Redstone’s legal battles pitted him not only against his children, but also against business rivals, former allies and younger girlfriends.
In 1979, Redstone survived a deadly hotel fire in Boston, perched on a window ledge outside a room as flames burned his extremities.
The Boston-bred mogul, who began his career as an attorney, ruled his businesses with an iron fist but was forced to step down as chairman of CBS and Viacom in February 2016 amid pressure from shareholders and activists questioning his mental capacity. By then, his physical health was also weakening.
The billionaire’s final years were marred by scandals at his companies and disparaging allegations about his personal life.
At the time of his death, Redstone served as ViacomCBS chairman emeritus and chairman-CEO of National Amusements.
“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,” National Amusements said.
“He transformed a regional theater chain into a world leader in the motion picture exhibition 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 — Wednesday 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,” the company added. “With his passing, the media industry he loved so dearly loses one of its great champions.”
Added ViacomCBS president-CEO Bob Bakish:
“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 in a statement. “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 Wednesday.”