NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone has died. The former executive chairman of CBS and Viacom was 97.

Redstone grew up in a Boston housing project, but went on to become a billionaire and one of the country’s most powerful media moguls.

An academic whiz, Redstone graduated from Harvard College in less than three years, then returned for a law degree. He joined his father’s company, which ran a chain of drive-in movie theaters. By the early ’80s, he had predicted the end of an era.

“The American drive-in’s demise is practically certain. I would say by the end of the decade, the drive-in will be virtually extinct, and actually a part of America’s nostalgic past,” he said.

Redstone built the company into one of the largest movie theater chains in the country, and pioneered the trend of the multiplex.

As he was building his business, Redstone suffered a brush with death. He survived a devastating fire at Boston’s Copley Hotel by hanging from a third floor window. He suffered third-degree burns and permanent damage to his hands.

In 1987, he launched a hostile takeover of Viacom, which owned Showtime and MTV. It later merged with Paramount and the CBS corporation, creating one of the world’s most powerful media companies. In 2006, Redstone showed his mettle in the very public firing of Tom Cruise, citing the actor’s erratic behavior, such as when he jumped on a couch during an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.

After beating prostate cancer, Redstone turned more of his attention to philanthropy. In 2014, he teamed up with business tycoon Michael Milken to make an $80 million donation for fighting chronic diseases.

In 2016, Redstone stepped down as chairman of both CBS and Viacom. Months later he fought off a legal challenged from a former girlfriend who wanted control over his healthcare.

It was a long and turbulent life, but through it all, he described himself as a born optimist with a passion to win.

 

ViacomCBS President and CEO Bob Bakish released this statement:

Team,

I am saddened to inform you that Sumner M. Redstone, Chairman Emeritus of ViacomCBS, and Chairman and CEO of National Amusements, our controlling shareholder, has passed away at the age of 97.

Sumner was a true industry titan, a brilliant and driven pioneer whose influence on the media and entertainment landscape cannot be overstated. A force of nature and one of a kind, Sumner single-handedly transformed a family-owned drive-in theater company into a pre-eminent global media portfolio including both our legacy companies, Viacom and CBS.

Sumner astutely anticipated the ways in which the media industry would evolve, shaped by technological innovation and changing consumer tastes, and recognized the enormous potential of both Viacom and CBS. Over the course of his career, he oversaw some of the most important moments in our history, including our combination in 2000, as well as the 1994 merger with Paramount Communications and the acquisitions of BET and our remaining stake in Comedy Central in 2000 and 2003, respectively. 

His guidance and leadership have left a permanent stamp on our company and helped shape who we are as ViacomCBS today – in fact, he famously remarked “content is king,” an observation that feels as relevant to our mission today as ever.  Having been fortunate to work with Sumner, I will personally remember his unparalleled passion to win, his endless intellectual curiosity, and his complete dedication to the company. 

Please join me in offering our deepest condolences to the Redstone family, and honoring Sumner’s legacy today.

Best,

Bob   

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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