UPDATED with Viacom statement: Frank Biondi Jr., a stalwart in the top echelons of the entertainment industry as the former CEO of Viacom, Universal Studios, and HBO, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 74.
Biondi died at his home after a battle with bladder cancer, according to family and former business associates. Biondi was both widely respected and liked in a boardroom world that rarely allows for both and his business acumen helped build Viacom and HBO into potent companies and major brands.
Frank Biondi Jr. was a brilliant and esteemed leader, who left an indelible mark on Viacom and the entertainment industry at large,” Viacom said in a statement: “With his quick mind and business acumen, Frank helped transform Viacom into a global leader in entertainment. We’re grateful for his many contributions, and on behalf of the entire Viacom team, extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”
Robert Simonds, Chairman and CEO of STX Entertainment, and Biondi’s son-in-law, said in a statement that the family is reeling from the loss.
“Anne and I are devastated to lose Frank so young. He was not only an icon and mentor to me, as he was to so many in our industry, he was a noble, kind and beloved father to us and an extraordinary grandfather to our children,” Simonds said. “We cherish the life and memories we shared and we will proudly carry on his legacy.”
Unflappable and understated, the New Jersey native also served as chairman and chief executive of Universal Studios. The executive was a reassuring figure in the media and entertainment arenas of the 1980s and 1990s that were often crowded with fire-breathing tyrants and ruthless power-grabbers.
A high school baseball star and strong student, Biondi started his climb at Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1966. He added an MBA from Harvard, which got him a foothold as a Wall Street financial analyst but he side-stepped into the entertainment industry in the 1970s by landing at the Children’s Television Workshop, producer of Sesame Street and Electric Company..
In 1978, Biondi was lured away to HBO and became a key figure in the company’s still-shaping business model for subscription television. He took over as president and chief executive of HBO in 1983 but four years later he left for a job that would become his signature success.
Biondi was named president and CEO of Viacom, the parent company of MTV, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, in 1987, tethering his fortunes to Sumner Redstone, the mercurial chairman of the media giant. On Biondi’s watch, Viacom transitioned from a debt-laden cable player and theater exhibitor into entertainment titan that acquired Paramount and Blockbuster Video in transactions valued at $18 billion.
Redstone shocked investors and industry observers by jettisoning Biondi in 1996, a move apparently motivated mostly by the media mogul’s impatience and restlessness. Biondi was quickly scooped up by Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Seagrams Co. to lead the liquor company’s entertainment enterprise, Universal Studios, formerly known as MCA. The job lasted only two years but the astute Biondi reportedly exited with a hefty settlement somewhere north of $25 million.
His considerable resume also made Biondi a man in demand for public media and tech companies looking to add his credibility to their board of directors membership. Over the years, Biondi served on the boards of AMC Networks, Cablevision Systems Corporation, Harrah’s Entertainment, Hasbro, Madison Square Garden Co., RealD, ViaSat, and Yahoo!
Biondi is survived by Carol Biondi, his wife of 45 years, as well as his daughters: Anne Biondi Simonds and Jane Biondi Munna.