Sumner Redstone started his career as an exhibitor, so friends and family who organized his surprise 90th birthday party last week zealously pursued a theatrical theme — a giant red carpet in front of his home, a theater marquee, tickets, candy and even stars.
The 150 guests, including Tom Cruise, Mark Wahlberg and Danny DeVito, were not shown a movie once inside the media mogul’s Beverly Park mansion, but instead were treated to a lavish four-course dinner followed by a half-hour concert by Redstone’s pal, Tony Bennett.
Was it a surprise? Redstone wasn’t saying, but he seemed pleased as he greeted guests from his seat at the head table, then settled in for a 25-minute tribute reel of birthday greetings. The lead salute came from CBS latenight host David Letterman, who famously abjures such rituals, followed by tributes from Viacom chief executive Philippe Dauman, CBS Corp. honcho Les Moonves and Paramount Pictures boss Brad Grey. Though Redstone’s famous family feuds have made great fodder for the press, much of the clan showed up for the birthday event, including his daughter Shari Redstone and his ex-wife Phyllis.
While he lacks the mobility of former years, family and guests commented on his intellectual sharpness and durability. Seated next to Redstone was his close long-time friend, Robert Evans, with Al Gore across from him. A phalanx of other famous industry chums sat nearby, including power couple Sherry Lansing and Billy Friedkin, Michael Eisner and pit bull entertainment lawyer Marty Singer.
Redstone’s spirits were buoyed not only by the tributes but also by news that Viacom’s stock price is dancing around its all-time high, and the board of directors voted to increase the quarterly cash dividend from 27.5¢ a share to 30¢. (Redstone holds more than 40 million shares, making his stake is now worth an estimated $2.9 billion.)
Shares of CBS, which Redstone also controls, have similarly been on the rise.
“Sumner is happy tonight,” said one close female relative. “And when he is happy, we all are happy. And his philanthropies are happy.”