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Younger Wife, Exotic Fish: The Mogul's Secret to Vitality

September 18, 2006|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

If media moguls Sumner M. Redstone and Rupert Murdoch worry about their mortality, they have a rejuvenating remedy: They both have wives who are about half their own age.

The 83-year-old Redstone married his second wife, Paula Fortunato, a former New York schoolteacher who is now 44, in 2003.

Murdoch, 75, took his third wife, Wendi Deng, in 1999. The former executive at News Corp.'s Asian satellite service is 37.

Call it the "fountain of youth effect," said Stuart Fischoff, professor emeritus of media psychology at Cal State L.A.

He says younger wives can be revitalizing for aging lions. "It's a generalized arouser, giving a sense of purpose, a new spirit ... a new inspiration," he said.

Both moguls' wives have significant influence over their husbands. Some in Hollywood believe Fortunato was a key factor in her husband's public tirade last month against Tom Cruise, whom Redstone dismissed from Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures, citing his off-screen antics. Fortunato was apparently offended by Cruise's harsh criticism of actress Brooke Shields' use of antidepressants to treat postpartum depression.

"My wife was among many women and men who were incensed," Redstone said. "I listen to my wife, but I make my own decisions."

Deng's effect on Murdoch also should not be underestimated. After News Corp. purchased DirecTV in 2003, Deng, who is of Chinese descent, hired feng shui experts to rid the El Segundo headquarters of bad vibes. Murdoch had installed a new president, but the feng shui experts considered his office overlooking the ocean and the mountains unlucky, given his date of birth. So he was moved to an office with a view of a parking garage and a sewage treatment plant.

The chief financial officer was forced to give up an office with an adjoining bathroom because the feng shui experts concluded that DirecTV's profit, which had been negligible, was being sucked down the toilet.

Murdoch declined to comment for this article.

Marty Kaplan, associate dean of USC's Annenberg School for Communication, said another symptom of an aging man's struggle with mortality was "exotic hobbies."

That could explain Redstone's obsession with tropical fish. "I have the largest saltwater collection in the world," he brags, estimating it at more than 500 fish.

At the couple's Mediterranean-style mansion in Beverly Park, Redstone typically spends the day in his den, parked in a comfy chair, making calls from two cellphones and watching CNBC's stock ticker on his big-screen TV. His wife refers to the den as the Captain Nemo room.

"I have a 1,000-gallon tank on my right and a new 650-gallon tank on my left," Redstone said. A wall was torn down to install the latest tank, which joins two smaller ones that house sea horses and coral reefs. There's also a hospital tank for sick fish.

Cameras are installed in two hallway tanks, allowing Redstone to watch his fish on the TV with a click of the remote.

His wife's pet name for him: Mr. Big Cheese.

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claudia.eller@latimes.com

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