Rupert Murdoch: The $8bn tycoon who dyes his own hair over the sink
Published 06/09/2008 | 00:00
Rupert Murdoch's biographer got an up-close-and-personal look at the media mogul over nine months of interviews, but there was one thing that Michael Wolff couldn't quite pin down. Just what colour was that hair? At 77, it is surely grey -- there are photos that suggest as much. And yet, one afternoon it might be "flaming orange", then "sometimes aubergine".
It took a trip to Mr Murdoch's daughter, Prudence MacLeod, in the newspaperman's native Australia, to get the scoop. "I've said to him, 'Dad, I understand about dyeing the hair and the age thing' -- he never wants to die -- 'but just go somewhere proper. But he insists on doing it over the sink because he doesn't want anybody to know. Well, hello! Look in the mirror.'"
Such is the interest in Wolff's semi-authorised biography that its publisher, Random House, has brought forward the release to December to grab a chunk of the Christmas gift sales. And this week, Vanity Fair, has offered a sneak peek of what was learnt in 56 hours of interviews with Mr Murdoch and countless more with friends, relatives and enemies.
Wolff has only just delivered his manuscript, which sets out what motivates Mr Murdoch and majors on the machinations which won him control of The Wall Street Journal, the most powerful conservative voice in US newspapers. But Random House editors are working furiously to get the book out. They are confident that The Man Who Owns The News: Inside The Secret World Of Rupert Murdoch provides the first truly intimate portrait of a man whose pungent right-wing views and powerful media empire -- spanning The Sun, The Times and BSkyB in Britain, the Fox News channel in the US, Star TV in Asia and now the MySpace social networking site -- have made him a bogeyman for liberals the world over.
If we are to believe hints in the Vanity Fair article, published this week, Wolff has no shortage of anecdotes to make Mr Murdoch's liberal critics blanche. "He remains a militant free-marketeer and is still pro-war (grudgingly, he's retreated a bit)," the author says. "And there was the moment, one afternoon, when over a glass of his favourite coconut water (meant to increase electrolytes) he was propounding the genetic theory that the basic problem of the Muslim people was that they married their cousins."
Nothing prepared the US media establishment for Murdoch's coup de grâce last year, when he wrested control of the WSJ from the feuding Bancroft family that had been its guardian for more than 100 years with a $5bn offer that was 60pc higher than the company was worth.
The paper's journalists came close to revolt, fearing a slide downmarket and editorial meddling to further their proprietor's numerous business interests. They have since been largely quieted by promises of more resources, but Mr Murdoch complained at the time that he got the sort of press coverage normally reserved for "a genocidal tyrant".
The close co-operation he has given Wolff, and the access he has afforded the author to his wife, Wendi Deng, and his children, is testimony to his desire to paint a more rounded picture. It is also, says Wolff, because Mr Murdoch is "as pleased as Punch with himself". The Murdoch family fortune is these days put at $8.3bn, putting him just outside the top 100 richest people in the world.
So far, there are tantalising glimpses of the tensions that run through the dynasty. Most intriguing of all, Wolff says that the mogul's mother -- Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, 99, and still running about her award-winning garden in Australia in a golf buggy -- continues to smart about the break-up of her son's marriage to second-wife Anna in 1999 after 32 years.
Dame Elisabeth told him: "I remember saying to Rupert, 'You're going to be very, very lonely and the first desiring female who comes along will snap you up.' He said, 'Don't be ridiculous, mum, I'm far too old for that.' That's exactly what happened. Never mind."
Friends have long said that Mr Murdoch's marriage to the Star TV executive, Wendi Deng, less than three weeks after his divorce was finalised, has given him a new zest for life, sending him to the gym and pitching him into a new, more liberal, cocktail party circuit.
Now, though, Wolff's Vanity Fair article is sowing seeds that may grow into family discord. Mr Murdoch's eldest son, Lachlan, stormed out of the company in 2005 amid a dispute over how the mogul's two young daughters -- Grace, six, and Chloe, five -- share in the family trust. After handing $1.5m cash to his four adult children, it was agreed all six offspring would take an equal financial share, but only the four eldest have voting rights. Murdoch refuses to believe the deal exists.
'Murdoch himself baldly denies that what is, is. All his children will participate equally, he says flatly," says Wolff. And who would bet against him getting what he wants? After all, Murdoch got his sit-down meeting with Barack Obama. He got the WSJ and now fantasises about grabbing financial data company Bloomberg, or even The New York Times.
But has he got the biography he hoped for? We'll see.