Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-born billionaire, received the Sunday Mail and the News from his father, a well-known war correspondent and newspaper proprietor.
Murdoch continued to acquire more media businesses over the years, beginning with American newspapers in the 1970s. With the purchase of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. in 1985, he entered the entertainment industry and later ignited a shift of the cable TV landscape by creating Fox News.
Murdoch sold a large portion of 21st Century Fox to the Walt Disney Company in 2017, four years after dividing his enterprise into two entities, 21st Century Fox Inc. and News Corp. He has remained active in the businesses well into his 90s.
Early Life and Career
Keith Rupert Murdoch was born on a rural farm about 30 miles south of Melbourne, Australia, on March 11, 1931. Murdoch has always gone by his middle name, Rupert, after his maternal grandfather. Keith Murdoch, his father, was a well-known Australian journalist who controlled several local and regional newspapers, including the Herald in Melbourne, the Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and the News and Sunday Mail.
Cruden Farm was named after the Scottish village where both of Murdoch’s parents had emigrated. The Cruden Farm house was a stone structure with colonial pillars, ornamented with original paintings, a grand piano, and a library of literature, set among beautiful countryside bordered by Ghost Gum trees. Horseback riding was Murdoch’s favorite childhood sport. His mother later detailed her son’s upbringing: “I think it was a very normal childhood, not in any way elaborate or an overindulged one. I suppose he was lucky to be brought up in attractive—you could say aesthetic—surroundings.”
Murdoch was trained from a young age to enter the world of publishing. “I was raised in a publishing home, a newspaper man’s home, and was probably excited by that,” he explained. “I saw that life up close and never really considered any other after the age of 10 or 12.”
Murdoch graduated from Geelong Grammar, a famous Australian boarding school, in 1949 before transferring to Worcester College at Oxford University in England. Murdoch was described as “a normal, red-blooded college student who had many friends, chased girls, went on the usual drinking binges, engaged in slapdash horseplay, tried at sports, and never had enough money, no doubt due to his gambling.”
Murdoch’s carefree upbringing was cut short in his early twenties when his father died unexpectedly in 1952. Murdoch purchased Keith’s newspapers in Adelaide, Australia, the News and the Sunday Mail. In 1953, a 22-year-old Murdoch returned to Australia to take over his father’s papers after a brief apprenticeship under Lord Beaverbrook at the Daily Express in London.
Murdoch involved himself in all parts of the Sunday Mail and News’ daily operations very immediately after gaining control of the journals. He designed page layouts, wrote headlines, and worked in the typesetting and printing facilities. He swiftly transformed the News into a chronicle of crime, s*x, and scandal, and while these changes were divisive, the paper’s sales skyrocketed.
Only three years later, in 1956, Murdoch extended his operations by acquiring the Perth-based Sunday Times and rebranding it in the News’ sensationalist style. Murdoch then broke into the lucrative Sydney market in 1960 by purchasing the failing Mirror and gradually transformed it into Sydney’s best-selling afternoon paper. Encouraged by his success and with political ambitions, Murdoch created Australia’s first national daily paper, the Australian, in 1965, which helped to rehabilitate Murdoch’s reputation as a respected news publisher.
The 37-year-old proprietor of a $50 million Australian news empire traveled to London in the fall of 1968 and purchased the tremendously popular Sunday tabloid The News of the World. Murdoch bought another struggling daily tabloid, the Sun, a year later, and supervised another successful transition using his formula of reporting heavily on s*x, sports, and crime. The Sun also drew readers’ attention by featuring photos of topless women in its iconic “Page 3” story.
Murdoch then expanded his news empire to the United States with the 1973 purchase of the San Antonio News, a Texas-based tabloid. Murdoch swiftly expanded throughout the country, as he had done in Australia and England, launching a national tabloid, the Star, in 1974 and purchasing the New York Post two years later. Murdoch established News Corporation, sometimes known as News Corp., in 1979 as a holding company for his multiple media properties.
Murdoch amassed a dizzying array of news sources around the world during the 1980s and 1990s. He purchased the Chicago Sun-Times, the Village Voice, and New York magazine in the United States. In England, he purchased the venerable Times and Sunday Times of London.
Emergence of Fox and a Media Empire
During these years, Murdoch began to expand his media empire into television and entertainment. In 1985, he bought 20th Century Fox Film Corp. as well as many independent TV stations and merged them into Fox Inc., which has since grown into a prominent American television network.
He created Star TV, a Hong Kong-based television broadcasting corporation, in 1990. In addition, he combined several famous American and British academic and literary publishing houses into HarperCollins the same year after purchasing them in the late 1980s.
Murdoch has also made investments in sports. From 1998 until 2004, News Corporation owned the Los Angeles Dodgers MLB franchise. Murdoch also owns a stake in the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers NHL teams, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks NBA teams, the Crypto.com Arena (previously the Staples Center) and Madison Square Garden, as well as Fox Sports 1 and the Fox Sports website.
With the turn of the century, Murdoch continued to increase News Corp.’s assets, gaining control over an increasing portion of the media that people consume on a daily basis. He bought Intermix Media, the owner of the prominent social networking site MySpace.com, in 2005. In 2007, the long-time newspaper magnate made headlines when he purchased Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
Murdoch has faced widespread criticism for monopolizing power over foreign media channels, as well as for his conservative political beliefs, which are frequently mirrored in Murdoch-controlled outlets such as Fox News. During the 2010 midterm elections in the United States, News Corp donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association and the United States Chamber of Commerce, both of which supported Republican candidates. Critics contended that the owner of major news outlets reporting the election should not actively donate to the political campaigns involved.
Murdoch’s empire, on the other hand, suffered a big setback in 2011. The News of the World, his London tabloid, was embroiled in a phone hacking scandal. Several editors and journalists were charged for illegally accessing the voicemails of some of Britain’s most powerful people. That same year, Rupert was called to testify, and he shut down The News of the World. News Corporation later compensated some of the individuals who were hacked.
Despite the controversy, News Corp. continues to control a sizable portion of the world’s media. Murdoch owns many of the books and newspapers that people read, as well as the TV series and films that they watch, radio stations that they listen to, websites that they visit, and blogs and social networks that they develop.
He announced a massive restructure of his enterprise in 2013. Murdoch chose to split his company into two: 21st Century Fox Inc. and News Corp. This move separated his entertainment and publishing assets. Murdoch told the Los Angeles Times, “Both companies will be uniquely positioned to execute on their respective strategic objectives and to lead their industries forward.”
Although he could never have predicted the authority he would one day hold, Murdoch craved this kind of influence as a young publisher creating his business. “I sensed the excitement and power,” he says. “Not raw power, but at least the ability to influence the agenda of what was going on.” And, after six decades in the media, Murdoch says he can’t envision his life any other way. “If you’re in the media, particularly newspapers, you’re in the thick of all the interesting things that are going on in a community, and I can’t imagine any other life that one would want to dedicate oneself to,” he remarked.
New Leadership and Sale to Disney
Murdoch announced in June 2015 that he would take over control of 21st Century Fox to his son James. Murdoch would stay as executive co-chairman of the corporation, sharing the position with his oldest son, Lachlan.
Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of Fox News and the Fox Television Stations Group, resigned in July 2016 as a result of a s**ual harassment lawsuit filed by Fox television star Gretchen Carlson. Murdoch indicated that he would temporarily fill Ailes’ position.
In the midst of its restructuring, 21st Century Fox was in talks with Walt Disney about selling some of its holdings. While talks were claimed to have halted in November 2017, they were apparently restarted within a few weeks, with Fox exploring offers for its movie and television networks, as well as its international divisions. In mid-December, arrangements were agreed upon for Disney to purchase the majority of 21st Century Fox in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $52.4 billion. Murdoch announced he would spin off Fox News, the Fox broadcast network, and the FS1 sports cable channel into a new publicly traded firm.
In February 2018, a Wired cover story disclosed details of Murdoch’s ongoing battle with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The feud apparently began in 2007, when Murdoch’s News Corp. was accused of attempting to spark a scandal involving the existence of sexual predators on Facebook. Later, in a 2016 meeting, Murdoch chastised Zuckerberg for altering Facebook’s news feed algorithm, giving the social platform the ability to significantly effect traffic for other websites. News Corp. allegedly vowed to respond by lobbying and starting an anti-Facebook campaign through its various media outlets.
While his enormous agreement with Disney was still being approved, Murdoch attempted to boost 21st Century Fox’s ownership in Sky News in the United Kingdom. However, despite the company’s insistence that Sky News would retain editorial independence, the purchase was stymied by politicians and authorities concerned about 21st Century Fox’s stranglehold on the British news market.
Stepping Down as Chairman
Beginning in July 2022, Murdoch will operate from his house in Montana rather than Fox or News Corp. buildings, according to a securities filing. Murdoch revealed in a company memo to workers just over a year later, on September 21, 2023, that he will stand down as chairman of the board of both firms beginning in November. He named his son Lachlan as the sole chairman.
Murdoch vowed he would continue to be an active participant in both companies and their various brands. “I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas and advice,” Murdoch wrote.
Children and Wives
In 1956, Murdoch married Patricia Booker. They divorced in 1967 after having a daughter, Prudence. He married Anna Torv in 1967 and had three children with her—Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James—before divorcing in 1999.
Murdoch married his third wife, Wendi Deng, only 17 days after his second divorce. Grace and Chloe are their two children. In court papers, Murdoch stated that the “relationship between husband and wife had broken down irretrievably” when he filed for divorce from Deng in June 2013. Some were surprised by the announcement of the divorce, but there had been whispers of marital problems in previous years. In 2014, the divorce was finalized.
Murdoch married Mick Jagger’s ex-wife Jerry Hall in January 2016. The couple apparently started dating the previous summer. They married on March 4, 2016, in London, and will divorce in August 2022.
Murdoch, 92, announced his engagement to Ann Lesley Smith in March 2023. Murdoch’s Moraga vineyard in southern California is where the couple met. However, within two weeks, Vanity Fair reported that Murdoch and Smith had called off their engagement.
Murdoch owns residences in Los Angeles’ Bel Air neighborhood and New York, among other places. For decades, he has owned Cavan Station, an Australian ranch largely used for wool farming. Murdoch bought Beaverhead Ranch, a 500-square-mile cattle ranch in Montana, from Koch Industries in 2021.
Murdoch’s overall net worth was projected to be around $9 billion as of August 2023 by Celebrity Net Worth. Murdoch and his family were rated 99th on Forbes’ 2023 list of the world’s wealthiest individuals, with a combined net worth of $17.1 billion.