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Ovitz's Net Worth Is Difficult to Calculate

October 28, 2001|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a business where spending other people's money is an art form, a $100-million hit to anyone's pocketbook reverberates like an earthquake, even when it happens to one of the entertainment industry's wealthiest moguls.

Which is why the demise of Artists Television Group has many Hollywood insiders intrigued about Michael Ovitz's financial portfolio.

Ovitz is not included in the annual Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, which bottoms out at $600 million. He always has kept his financial dealings close to the vest, and close associates don't speak about them for the record.

According to people who know Ovitz well and have done business with him, the best guess is that his net worth has fluctuated in the last five years from as low as $150 million to more than $350million.

One reason for such a big swing is the Walt Disney Co. stock options Ovitz received as severance when he left the company in December 1996 after a rocky 14 months as president.

Ovitz was given $38.9 million in cash when he left Disney, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents, along with 3 million options at $57 a share. Those options became 9 million shares at $19 each when Disney's stock split 3-or-1 in July 1998.

Valued at as much as $221 million in April of last year, the options as of Friday were worthless, with Disney's stock still languishing below Ovitz's $19 exercise price. Disney stock closed at $18.71.

Ovitz has until next year to exercise the options, and they still could recover. What isn't known is how many shares, if any, Ovitz has exercised and divested and at what price.

He also received about $85 million in the mid-1990s when he and his partners sold Creative Artists Agency, according to people familiar with the deal.

Also making it difficult to evaluate Ovitz's worth are assets such as real estate and art that are difficult to value accurately. His art collection includes works by Jasper Johns, Picasso and Rembrandt. Artnews magazine last year listed Ovitz as one of the top 200 collectors in the world.

Ovitz through partnerships has stakes in three prominent Westside buildings. They are CAA's I.M. Pei-designed Beverly Hills headquarters, the Ice House building in Beverly Hills and a Century City building that houses the top-tier entertainment law firm Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer.

One Ovitz asset on the block is Dancing Bear Ranch in Aspen, Colo., a 500-acre spread with a private bridge, a stone house, five bedrooms and four fireplaces. The asking price is $10.8 million. Ovitz bought the ranch in 1995 for $5.5 million, according to the Aspen Daily News.

Ovitz has a sprawling ranch in Ojai where his wife breeds horses. They also have a home in Brentwood and are planning a Pei-designed home in Beverly Hills. Other assets include a Malibu estate, an apartment in Manhattan, a Gulfstream IV jet and a yacht valued at about $16 million that he shares with Northwest Airlines Chairman Gary Wilson.

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