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More than a month after his Feb. 11 no-show at a party to thank firefighters for saving his Los Angeles vineyard from a brush fire, Rupert Murdoch is largely AWOL from 21st Century Fox as he recovers from a serious back injury suffered in January on son Lachlan’s yacht.
Emails, phone calls and text messages Murdoch had been sending while recuperating from the compression fracture to his back are fewer and farther between in recent weeks, worrying friends and employees. Some are even wondering if the 87-year-old media mogul might be testing retirement following the December unveiling of his $52.4 billion deal to sell most of the Fox assets to Disney.
The mogul had been running Fox News since the ouster of Roger Ailes (who died last May), but he has been recovering at his Bel Air home in California while the No. 1 cable news channel is headquartered in New York. “He’s largely MIA,” says one person close to the situation.
While Murdoch may not be as active as usual, sources say he has taken meetings at home recently and in early March he hosted a cocktail party at his estate for board members of both Fox and News Corp. “I’m doing great,” Murdoch tells The Hollywood Reporter in an email via a representative. “I appreciate if anyone is worried about me but they shouldn’t be. I’ve been busy with meetings at home but I’m looking forward to being back in the office in a couple weeks.”
Still, there’s a concern among shareholders and employees that plans for a post-Disney “New Fox” — including Fox News, Fox broadcast network, Fox Sports, 28 local television stations and possibly six Sinclair affiliates — could suffer without Murdoch’s full attention. Says Steven Birenberg, of Northlake Capital Management, “Investors would prefer Rupert stick around for at least a year post the [Disney] deal-close, given the new strategy is not quite built out yet and future M&A, like even more stations, could occur.”
Murdoch, of course, built his media empire from a single family newspaper in Australia. And he was front and center with Disney CEO Bob Iger when announcing in December that they had struck a partial-merger agreement. It’s not known yet whether James Murdoch will join Disney after the deal is consummated, nor is it known what the management will look like at New Fox, though observers presume it could be run by Lachlan with his elderly father taking on a less active role.
“Seems like Lachlan will have control over direct-to-consumer products, but fatherly advice sure would not hurt,” says Birenberg.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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