Sumner Redstone, a towering figure in the media industry who served as Chairman/CEO of National Amusements, Inc., and was the controlling shareholder of what is now ViacomCBS, has died.
He was 97 years old.
At the time of his death, Redstone served as Chairman Emeritus of a company reunified on Dec. 4, 2019 — a move largely orchestrated by his daughter, Shari Redstone, who serves as NAI President and ViacomCBS chair.
In a statement, ViacomCBS President/CEO Bob Bakish, who earned the position despite failed efforts in early 2018 by then-CBS Chairman/CEO Les Moonves to thwart a takeover, called Sumner Redstone “a brilliant visionary, operator and dealmaker, who single-handedly transformed a family-owned drive-in theater company into a global media portfolio.”
Bakish continued, “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 $3.4 billion 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.
NAI’s holdings include Showcase Cinemas. It issued its own statement Wednesday morning (8/12), calling Sumner Redstone a “self-made businessman, philanthropist and World War II veteran who built one of the largest collections of media assets in the world.”
The NAI statement continued, “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.
“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.”
Redstone was born in Boston 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, a Nassau County, N.Y., community. 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.
Sumner Redstone initially had other plans: After completing his military service, he 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, Sumner Redstone joined NAI.
EXPLORE THE RBR+TVBR ARCHIVES FOR THESE STORIES ON SUMNER REDSTONE AND VIACOMCBS: