Why Tom Cruise Really Got Fired
Sumner Redstone's bizarre envy of middle-aged men.
These days, Sumner Redstone, the 83-year-old chairman of Viacom and CBS, seems less like a billionaire media mogul and more like the Izzy Mandelbaum character Lloyd Bridges played on Seinfeld—a crusty, vain, ultrafit eightysomething guy continually jeering younger stars for being flabby girlie-men. "I work out every day," Redstone told the New York Times earlier this week. "Do you know any studs who work out 70 minutes a day?"
Redstone, who recently married a woman half his age, puts great stock in his virility. And in recent years, he has periodically released his excess testosterone by firing good-looking, middle-aged bucks who have gotten too big for their britches. Last month, it was megastar Tom Cruise. Earlier this week, he cashiered Tom Freston, the CEO of Viacom and one of the founders of MTV.
Is Redstone's need to fire younger guys merely rational decision-making by a canny CEO? Or does it reflect some bizarre reverse-Oedipal envy? Read the obituaries and decide for yourself!
Media stud: Frank Biondi
Title/position: President and CEO of Viacom
Year fired: 1996
Ostensible reason: Low-key, calm Biondi wasn't sufficiently aggressive to lead an entrepreneurial company in the age of media convergence
Real reason: Redstone resented the attention Biondi received as a member of the establishment in the age of media convergence
What he's doing now: Private equity investor, serial joiner of corporate boards
Media stud: Brent Redstone
Title/position: Son, heir, former board member of Viacom
Year fired: Removed from Viacom's board in 2003
Ostensible reason: Shareholders said there were too many insiders on Viacom's board
Real reason: Sided with his mother, Phyllis Redstone, in bitter divorce fight
What he's doing now: Suing his dad
Media stud: Mel Karmazin
Title/position: President and COO of Viacom
Year fired: 2004 (technically, Karmazin resigned)
Ostensible reason: Redstone and Karmazin clashed over Karmazin's penny-pinching, bean-counting, and reluctance to take big financial risks
Real reason: Analysts and investors liked Karmazin's penny-pinching, bean-counting, and reluctance to take big financial risks and were hoping he'd eventually take over from Redstone
What he's doing now: CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio
Media stud: Tom Cruise
Title/position: Movie star, producer, expert on the history of mental illness, Scientologist
Year fired: 2006
Ostensible reasons: Strange behavior alienated female fans; his movies cost too much
Real reason: Sweet deal Cruise negotiated called for him to get 30 percent of gross; he angered Mrs. Redstone; more money for TomKat and their daughter Suri means less money for Sumner and his daughter Shari
What he's doing now: Charming hedge funds into funding his projects
Media stud: Tom Freston
Title/position: CEO of Viacom
Year fired: 2006
Ostensible reasons: MTV no longer quite so cool, got beat out by Rupert Murdoch for purchase of MySpace.com
Real reason: The move deflects attention from the Hollywood storm created when Redstone summarily fired Tom Cruise
What he's doing now: Counting his massive ($60 million in cash) severance package, talking to Ken Auletta
**Bonus exotic locale of firing: In Redstone's Beverly Hills mansion, more specifically, "in his library, amid an enormous collection of rare saltwater fish," according to Geraldine Fabrikant and Bill Carter
Daniel Gross is the Moneybox columnist for Slate and the business columnist for Newsweek. You can e-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter. His latest book, Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation, has just been published in paperback.
Photograph of Sumner Redstone by Stan Honda/Agence France Presse.Photograph of Tom Cruise on Slate's home pageby Susana Gonzalez/AFP/Getty Images.