Amount donated: $294m by the end of 2014
Philanthropic Causes: Medical research, medical treatment in the developing world, the arts, entertainment, education, aid for the poor and impoverished
Region of philanthropic focus: The US and the developing world
Ranking: Ranked 29th on Forbes’ America’s 50 Top Givers List
Net Worth: Forbes put Sumner’s net worth at $5.2bn in 2016
Source of wealth: Media
Sumner Redstone’s philanthropy earned him 29th position on Forbes’ America’s 50 Top Givers List. The media magnate gives through the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation as well as personal contributions. The $53m he donated in 2014 brought his lifetime giving total to $294m, which is 6% of his net worth, estimated by Forbes to stand at $5.2bn in 2016.
Many of Sumner’s philanthropic gifts are to causes close to his heart, including cancer research and the treatment of burns. His Foundation offers grants to charitable, not-for-profit organizations in the areas of education, health, and services benefitting those in need and young people in the US and abroad, through an online application process. One such grant was $500,000 to establish the Cambodian Children’s Fund. It is this Fund and the Global Poverty Project that he lists as among his “favourites”. In an interview with the Viacom blog, Sumner said: “I like to think that I have been bold in my career, and I admire this visionary organization [GPP] that is dedicated to fighting poverty and eradicating polio all over the world”.
Born Sumner Murray Rothstein in Boston, Massachusetts in 1923, the 92-year-old now lives in Beverly Park, California. He kept a link to his hometown by donating to organizations in Boston and being a member of the Executive Board of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. He made his fortune in the media world, but started out working in law. After serving in the Military Intelligence Division during WWII in a team that decoded Japanese messages, he received his LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1947. Sumner went on to give $10m to Harvard Law in 2014 to create fellowships for
students who work in public interest positions after graduating.
He worked for the U.S. Attorney General, Department of Justice Tax Division and in private practice before moving into media. Sumner joined his father’s movie theater chain, National Amusements in 1954, becoming CEO in 1967. He combined law and media when he joined the faculty of Boston University School of Law in 1982 and created one of the US’s first courses in entertainment law. In 2012, Sumner donated $18m to the School to improve and expand its facilities.
He went on to takeover Viacom in 1987 and acquired Paramount Pictures in 1993, having made a lot of money investing in movie production and distribution companies. He merged Viacom with former parent company CBS in 2000, remaining chairman of both after they split in 2005. The movie mogul showed his philanthropic support of the industry when his Foundation gave $10m to the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles to name its production building in 2013. Sumner received an honorary degree from George Washington University in 2006, and then in 2014 his Foundation donated $30m to the University, which lead to the establishment of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness.
In 2007, Sumner made large donations to two health facilities that had a direct relationship with his own medical history. After a hotel fire in 1979 left him fighting for his life, Sumner was treated for severe burns at Massachusetts General Hospital Burn Center. The gifts he initially made to the hospital lead to it being renamed the Sumner Redstone Burn Center in the early 1980s, then in 2007 he made a $35m commitment.
The other commitment was informed by his own battle with prostate cancer in 2003, a disease his father had also battled. It took the form of $70m to cancer research, split equally between the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center and FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions. In honour of his donation, Cedars-Sinai named its program the Sumner Redstone Prostate Cancer Research Program. Sumner was treated there and said: “What motivated me to give the money was that I have profited so much from the work of the hospital”. In publicizing these large donations, he revealed he hoped they would “encourage other people to do what I did”.