Off with Their Heads! Sumner Redstone Is Feuding with His Entire Family. He Fired Tom Cruise and Banished Tom Freston. Now All That's Left Are His Lawyers
Roberts, Johnnie L., Newsweek
Byline: Johnnie L. Roberts
Sumner Redstone is cranky. He's having a huge falling-out with his daughter, Shari--once considered the 84-year-old mogul's heir apparent--and it looks as if she may leave the family media empire, which controls Viacom and CBS. And the split with Shari, 53, is hardly the only conflict Sumner has had lately. His son, Brent, wiped his hands of the family business this spring after suing his dad and sister for allegedly freezing him out--settling for as much as $250 million, people familiar with the matter say. Sumner's battling a multibillion-dollar lawsuit by his nephew, who accuses him of "self-dealing" that deprived the nephew and his late sister of their stake in the Redstone enterprise. Sumner sent Tom Cruise packing from Paramount Studios, and then did the same to Viacom honcho Tom Freston. He's bickering with CBS chief Leslie Moonves over the size of the executive's compensation. And at Herbert Allen's annual mogul fest in bucolic Sun Valley this month, Redstone got into a war of words with CEO Eric Schmidt of Google, which Viacom is suing for more than $1 billion for allegedly nicking programs like "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "The Daily Show" for use on YouTube. Schmidt said Redstone and his cohorts had "built their company on lawsuits." To which Redstone replied, "I hate litigation; I'm a lover, not a fighter."
Right. More lawyers than loved ones surround Redstone these days, as the octogenarian mogul faces many battles. Decades of Redstone family dysfunction have erupted into public blood sport, with inheritors warring over the family fortune. At the same time, Redstone finds himself at a digital crossroads. He built his $8 billion fortune on properties cobbled together in an analog age--the National Amusements theater chain, MTV and Showtime, Paramount Pictures, CBS. But now digital upstarts like YouTube, MySpace and Apple are luring the viewers away from Redstone's properties, and morale is sinking at Viacom and his other companies. While his rival Rupert Murdoch is busy empire-building--negotiating a purchase of Dow Jones & Co., launching a new cable business channel and snapping up MySpace--Redstone is hunkered down, trying to protect a kingdom seemingly under siege from both inside and out.
So it is that Sumner Murray Redstone--the Harvard-trained lawyer and U.S. Department of Justice alum who says he hates litigation--has dispatched his lawyers to fight his battles. But then, Redstone and his kin have long preferred litigation over other means of conflict resolution. For more than three decades, Redstone siblings have been suing siblings, and children have been suing parents. And in the wake of all this litigation is an ever-growing paper trail of briefs and depositions, filling out an unflattering portrait of Redstone at a time when he'd no doubt prefer cementing his legacy as a media visionary. They paint a picture of a man who's methodically and craftily put fortune before family--and is now left with nothing but gold.
That's certainly the way Michael David Redstone, 50, sees his uncle Sumner. In the fall of 2001, Michael sent a handwritten plea to the billionaire. Michael had suffered "huge losses" in the market and needed to dig deeply into the principal of his trust fund, he wrote. Private-school tuition for his two kids was crushing him, and he feared he couldn't support them. Would Redstone put some stock of the family company, National Amusements, in his name to tide him over? "I am close enough to you to make this request," Michael wrote. Not close enough, apparently. "Sorry. Impossible. Stock cannot be transferred," Redstone scribbled across the bottom of Michael's letter (a copy of which was obtained by NEWSWEEK), and returned it via express mail four days later.
In letter after letter over the years, Michael has poignantly expressed the state of Redstone family affairs. Revealed as part of his 2006 lawsuit against his uncle, the letters allude to "psychotic fights" and "tragedy after tragedy" in the Redstone clan. …