Milken Conference: Sumner Redstone Says He and Tom Cruise Are 'Best Friends' Now

3:42 PM PST 05/02/2012 by Paul Bond
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"He was getting $10 million, on the lot, for doing nothing," the Viacom and CBS executive chairman said of once firing Cruise. He spoke during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference.

Viacom and CBS executive chairman Sumner Redstone reminisced Wednesday about firing Tom Cruise but added that the two are “best friends” today.
 
“Originally, I actually fired Tom. His behavior was terrible,” Redstone said at a semi-private lunch at the Milken Institute Global Conference. “He was jumping on the couch on the Oprah show. Women hated him. A lot of people said they would never come back and see Tom Cruise.
 
“Actually, he was getting $10 million, on the lot, for doing nothing," Redstone continued. "That’s why I fired him, and a lot of the studios complimented me.”

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Redstone, 88, whose guests at the lunch included CBS chief executive Les Moonves, music impresario Quincy Jones and film producer Robert Evans, then described how he reconciled with Cruise and asked Paramount CEO Brad Grey to welcome him back to Paramount Pictures.
 
“Later on, we had a meeting at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and Tom said, ‘I want to come back.’ I said, ‘You’re never gonna get the same deal you had before, Tom.' He said: ‘I don’t care. I want to work with them.' So I recommended that we take him back to Brad,” Redstone said. “Today, he is one of my best friends. We go out to dinner. I’ve been at his house with his wife Katie.
 
“He doesn’t get what he got before, and he doesn’t care,” Redstone said.
 
Noting that Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol is outperforming the previous installments of that film franchise, Redstone said, “So, see, [fans] have come back to see him.”
 
The session was one of the more intimate at the four-day conference in Beverly Hills, where 3,000 people paid as much as $6,000 each for a full-access pass. Redstone made the comments during an interview with conference founder Michael Milken on the topic of entrepreneurism.
 
Redstone spoke mostly about growing up poor and putting himself through the elite Boston Latin School, then Harvard University and Harvard Law School. Boston Latin, he said, was tougher than the other two.
 
“Harvard was like kindergarten,” he quipped.
 
After informing the guests that his Harvard education was paid for via scholarships, he said, “I don’t believe in borrowing money” -- a joke, given that Milken was responsible for arranging the loans Redstone needed to purchase Viacom 25 years ago.
 
“You charged me a quarter percent too much,” Redstone said. “And I’ve been paying for it ever since,” responded Milken.
 
Redstone said he was determined to outbid others for control of Viacom because he saw more value in Nickelodeon and MTV, especially the latter, than did his competitors.
 
“I recognized MTV was more than a music channel, it was a generational channel,” he said.
 
Milken, noting the many careers Redstone has had, asked why he got involved in media. “The entertainment business is exciting,” Redstone said. “There’s always something new happening.”
 
Redstone said that his decision to own the buildings and real estate rather than lease when he was creating his theater chain proved prescient. “That’s why I was able to borrow a lot of money when we needed it,” he said.
 
The exec also boasted of his decision to split CBS from Viacom, and Milken noted the irony that CBS -- which was supposed to have been the slow and steady company -- has been just as high-growth, if not more, than has Viacom.
 
Moonves, in fact, reminded the guests that CBS stock was at $3.09 three years ago, while today it’s above $34. He added that he “never got any grief at $3.09” from Redstone. “Sumner’s also there when you’re not winning,” Moonves said.
 
Redstone said he enjoys watching golf -- on CBS, of course -- and offered his unsolicited prediction about Tiger Woods: “Tiger will never make it again. He’s done.”
 
Asked what he looks for when he hires an executive, Redstone said, “Hard work, integrity and a relentless drive to be No. 1. Opportunity never knocks at your door. You have to go for it.”

Email: Paul.Bond@thr.com

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