From his mansion off Mulholland Drive, Sumner Redstone holds sway over one of the world’s biggest media empires. Tucked away in one of Los Ange-les’s most exclusive addresses, Redstone and his neighbours, including Sylvester Stallone, Denzel Washington and the billionaire Haim Saban, enjoy their privacy far from prying eyes.
But even gated communities have their leaks. And rumour has it that Redstone, 84, and his second wife, Paula Fortunato, a former schoolteacher half his age, are on the verge of a split.
Normally the marital woes of media executives are not fodder for the business pages. But this is the latest in a series of rows the irascible octogenarian has had with family members and employees – rows that some say are starting to take their toll on Redstone and his businesses.
Starting with a small chain of theatres, Redstone has amassed a personal fortune of $8 billion (£4 billion). Through his privately owned National Amusements company he controls publicly traded CBS and Viacom, owner of MTV, Paramount, Nickelodeon and other media assets.
Last month Redstone clashed with his daughter Shari, once seen as his heir apparent. He is now considering buying out her share in the family firm. It’s not his first family row. Last year his son Brent sued both Redstone and Shari, claiming they had frozen him out of the business. Brent was later bought out by his father.
Fortunato has been seen as instrumental in Redstone’s decision to sever Paramount’s contract with actor Tom Cruise, a decision that presaged a round of bloodletting at Viacom. Now it seems to be her turn.
With Redstone’s daughter being sidelined, Fortunato could become Viacom’s most influential shareholder if the mogul were to die. But Redstone doesn’t do death. “I’m not going to have a legacy. Legacies are for dead people. I have no intention of leaving,” Redstone recently told Business Week magazine.