Viacom and CBS Corporation Chairman Sumner Redstone is in his tenth decade of life. Through those years, he's cheated death at least three times: A fire in the 1970s left him with third-degree burns on nearly half of his body. Then there was the blood clot in his lungs as he was recuperating. Last decade, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
These experiences have shaped his philanthropy, and health issues are of deep importance to him. In turn, Redstone's giving is of keen interest to us, since we always pay close attention when a very old person is sitting on top of a very big fortune—in Redstone's case, one worth $6 billion. Just where, we wonder, is all that money going to go?
Before saying more about Redstone's healthcare philanthropy, a reality check is in order about future possible giving: Most of his assets may well be tied up after his death. As we wrote a while back, in an article about Shari Redstone:
Redstone's grandchildren will be the beneficiaries of a family trust that will control most of his wealth. Moreover, Redstone has said that this trust will be precluded from selling the family's controlling stake in his business empire, which would limit how much cash is available for philanthropy.
At the same time, we noted that it "would stand to reason that some of this fortune will find its way to philanthropy and Shari will play a role here."
As for what hints Sumner Redstone's past healthcare giving and interests offer about the future, read on.
Massachusetts General is one of three institutions that received a $105 million Redstone pledge in 2007 to fund burn recovery and prostate cancer research. Redstone has been associated with Massachusetts General Hospital since he received burn treatment there and currently serves as a corporation member.
The cash contributions of $35 million each have been paid out over five years to FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions, the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center and the aforementioned Massachusetts General Hospital.
Let's talk for a moment about Faster Cures, which is chaired by prominent health philanthropist and billionaire businessman Michael Milken. Redstone and Milken have known each other for decades and bonded over shared cancer diagnoses.
Faster Cures calls itself an "action tank" and is under the larger Milken Institute umbrella. One of the aims of Faster Cures is to bring together a variety of nonprofit disease research organizations in order to collaborate. Faster Cures spawned a network called TRAIN or the Redstone Acceleration and Innovation Network. Some interests of this network include prostate cancer, breast cancer, alzheimer′s, diabetes, autism, brain cancer, HIV/AIDS and malaria, among others.
Perhaps this helps explain Redstone's commitment to Autism Speaks, which received around $1 million in 2010, and $500,00 in 2011. We see this a lot with philanthropy, where a personal experience leads a billionaire to become interested in a particular cause—which then, over time, leads them into related areas of giving.
Redstone has also been a steady funder of Children's Hospital L.A. with annual sums of around $10,000 over the last few years.
Earlier this year, Redstone teamed up with Milken again to make a joint $80 million donation to George Washington University to target preventative medicine for chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Still, cancer appears to be the main focus of Redstone's health philanthropy. This year, Cedars Sinai received another $500,000. Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where Shari Redstone sits on the board of trustees, has also received funds.
Despite an active interest in cancer research and a long history of philanthropy, Sumner Redstone has yet to sign the Giving Pledge, and probably never will, given the estate issues mentioned earlier.
So what's going to happen in coming years, and where does Redstone's fortune go when he passes from the scene? We'd bet on more money going to recipients of past gifts, but also a bulking up of the Sumner Redstone Foundation, potentially making it an important funder in the healthcare field and area others, too.
Other than that, all eyes should be on Shari Redstone, who is already a billionaire in her own right thanks to her ownership stake in Viacom.