Net Worth: $700 million
Source of Wealth: Entertainment
Residence: Los Angeles
Norman Lear is best known as the prolific writer and producer who brought us Archie Bunker, Maude, the Jeffersons, and other unforgettable if not always lovable denizens of TV land.
But he went on to build an entertainment empire that stretched far beyond his sitcoms, taking in dozens of movie theaters and television stations nationwide.
In recent years, Lear’s holdings though not necessarily his personal wealth have shrunk considerably. Late last year, leveraged buyout giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts acquired Lear’s Act III Theaters for $660 million. The company was part of Lear’s L.A.-based ACT III Communications, and was strong in the Pacific Northwest. The sale came about three years after Lear sold eight television stations to the Boston-based buyout firm ABRY Broadcast Partners II for more than $500 million.
Lear started his career in the 1950s as a writer on the “Colgate Comedy Hour.”
He modeled Maude, the tart-tongued feminist, after his wife of 29 years, Frances, who died of cancer in 1996. A women’s rights activist, Frances Lear took credit for raising her husband’s consciousness in such matters, as she raised the couple’s two daughters.
The marriage broke up in the ’80s, leading to a divorce settlement that cost Lear $112 million. The windfall helped Frances Lear launch the now-defunct magazine Lear’s, aimed at women over 40.
Lear is a tireless crusader for liberal causes, among them the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1980, he formed People for the American Way, the Left’s answer to the Moral Majority. His Business Enterprise Trust, founded in 1989, honors businesses for integrity and social vision.
Some unfinished business: Lear is trying to get a variance to build a tennis court atop his 21-car garage, already 51 feet tall.