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Sumner Redstone controls CBS, Nickelodeon and MTV but he can barely speak

The 92-year-old needs a letter board to communicate.

Frazer Harrison/Getty

Sumner Redstone is 92 years old, and he controls two of the biggest media companies in the world — CBS and Viacom, which owns MTV and Nickelodeon. The two combined are worth over $40 billion.

But given Redstone’s poor health and advanced age, investors and media observers have wondered if he can effectively manage such large businesses, or if he’s managing anything at all. He used to be a regular presence on quarterly earnings calls, but he has since dropped off, remaining effectively hidden in his Beverly Hills mansion.

Now, a lawsuit brought by one of Redstone’s former girlfriends, Manuela Herzer, resulted in videotaped testimony from the billionaire nonagenarian, and the transcript of the interview is revealing. He requires an interpreter. He appears to not understand some basic questions (though it’s unclear if it’s because he’s unable — or unwilling — to respond). He needs a letter board to point to characters when speaking.

Still, Redstone may have successfully convinced a judge that he doesn’t want his former girlfriend’s help regarding his medical care. Herzer is suing for being removed as his health care agent, claiming she was pushed out by Redstone’s family.

When Redstone was asked to identify Herzer, he replied: "Manuela is a fucking bitch."

Redstone is one of the last great media barons of the cable age, having grown a number of significant TV networks from a relatively modest chain of movie theaters. He once was one of the most outspoken and colorful executives in an industry dominated by blunt billionaires.

Media reporters will miss him when he’s gone.

See the full transcript here.

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