Aug 11, 2020

"Life should not be a passive exercise... If we disregard its opportunities, then we have denied not only ourselves but all those who could have been touched by our efforts.”

Sumner Redstone, Chairman Emeritus of ViacomCBS, and Chairman and CEO of National Amusements, the controlling shareholder of ViacomCBS, died at his residence in Los Angeles, Calif. He was 97.

The Boston native, Army veteran, and Harvard Law School graduate joined his father’s drive-in movie theater company, National Amusements, in 1957, where he began his lifelong career in the entertainment industry, serving as CEO since 1967. Redstone helped build the drive-in theater company into one of the world's largest movie theater chains. Building off his start in the theater business, he became a prominent force in entertainment, contributing to TV, film, radio, distribution, and advertising—ultimately becoming a self-made billionaire. He famously coined the phrase “Content is King."

He turned his commitment to the future of content into investments in Twentieth Century Fox and Columbia Pictures, which he sold in the early 1980s.

In 1987, National Amusements, Inc. acquired Viacom. At the time, Redstone said he viewed the company as being at the center of “a vast technological and global revolution that would change the habits of people all over the world.”

“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.  He was a force of nature and fierce competitor, who leaves behind a profound legacy in both business and philanthropy,” said ViacomCBS CEO and President Bob Bakish. “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."

Engineering the ViacomCBS Portfolio

Redstone served Viacom as Chairman from 1987 to 2016, and as CEO from 1996 to 2005. Under his leadership, Viacom acquired brands that make the ViacomCBS portfolio strong today—including MTV in 1985,  Paramount Pictures in 1994, and BET in 2001.

Redstone also initiated the $39.8 billion merger with CBS in 2000, which Reuters described as a “marriage of media titans.” The companies later split in 2006, with Redstone serving as Executive Chairman of the Board for CBS until 2016. In December of 2019, Viacom and CBS merged once again.

Over the course of his career, Redstone served as a member of multiple entertainment organizations, including the Advisory Council for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation and on the Board of Trustees for The Paley Center for Media. He also served as the first Chairman of the Board of the National Association of Theatre Owners of America.

Commitment to Philanthropy

Beyond Redstone’s commitment to the entertainment business, he was a passionate philanthropist. He founded the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation in 1986 and, at the time of his death, had donated more than $260 million both through his foundation and personally.

"Life should not be a passive exercise... If we disregard its opportunities, then we have denied not only ourselves but all those who could have been touched by our efforts,” Redstone said during a commencement address at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 2002.

In 2007, he announced $105 million in charitable grants to fund research and care in cancer and burn recovery at Mass General, FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions in Washington, D.C., and the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Some of his other significant contributions include $20 million to Motion Picture & Television Fund in 2013, $2.5 million to Boston University College of Communication in 2014, and fellowships in his name for Public Service at his alma mater, Harvard School of Law. That same year, the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness was also established at George Washington University. Countless other donations have been made by Redstone to a number of organizations, including the Global Poverty Project, Literary Inc., Autism Speaks, and more.