Editor’s Note: “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence” explores the legacy of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the intense succession battle between his children. The CNN Original Series airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET.
Over the past 70 years, media mogul Rupert Murdoch built a small Australian family newspaper company into arguably the most powerful conservative media empire in history. With a market cap of $13.50 billion, News Corp is one of the most influential companies on the planet.
The story behind the ruthless business tactics, political maneuvering and dynastic family battles that have gone into the making of this media powerhouse would be perfect fodder for one of the News Corp news outlets or TV channels, if it were not about Rupert himself. Now, as the seemingly invincible figure advances into his nineties, speculation through the worlds of business, politics and entertainment about who will succeed him as the leader of News Corp has reached a fever pitch.
Here’s a look at who’s who in the potential line of succession and the wider Murdoch clan.
Australian-born Rupert Murdoch, 91, is the media magnate who grew the small newspaper company he inherited from his father in 1952 into News Corporation, Ltd., the multi-billion dollar global media empire with a presence in cable, film, television, internet, satellite, sports, publishing and other fields. At different points the conglomerate has included the newspapers News of the World, the Sun, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal; Twentieth Century Fox film studio; the Fox Broadcasting network; Fox News Channel; HarperCollins publishing, and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Murdoch has been married four times and fathered six children over the course of his seven-decades long career. Several of Murdoch’s children have followed him into the family business. Murdoch’s penchant for pitting the siblings against each other in a years’ long competition to see who will succeed him as head of News Corp is widely believed to be the inspiration for the popular HBO series, “Succession.”
Murdoch’s ruthlessness extends far beyond his family circle. Early in his career he developed the tactic of confronting competition by buying them or running them out of business. Dealings at his British tabloid papers came under scrutiny in 2011 when it was discovered reporters were hacking the phones of royals, celebrities, and crime victims to get their stories. The Murdoch family brand made headlines again when Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes was forced to resign amid sexual harassment allegations in 2016.
Murdoch still holds the top post at News Corp, the second incarnation of the now defunct News Corporation which broke up into two companies in 2013. It is unclear who will lead the company when he passes.
Lachlan Murdoch, 50, is Rupert Murdoch’s oldest son with his second wife, Anna. He began learning the family business at a young age through internships at his father’s media outlets. He rose quickly through the executive ranks and by 1997 had become chairman and chief executive of News Ltd. At the time, his father described Lachlan as his heir apparent, “the first among equals.” His ascension continued smoothly until 2005. That year, Lachlan abruptly quit his executive positions at News Corporation after a battle with Ailes over the direction of the cable news network – effectively taking himself off the heir apparent track. Lachlan then launched his own investment company, Illyria Pty, in Australia. After an extended absence, Lachlan returned to the family business in 2014 and resumed his position as a potential heir to the empire, becoming CEO of Fox Broadcasting and executive chairman at 21st Century Fox. Shortly after, Lachlan’s younger brother James was tapped to be CEO of 21st Century Fox in a power-sharing experiment orchestrated by Rupert between the brothers. The experiment proved unsuccessful, and Rupert sold 21st Century Fox to Disney in 2019. Lachlan now holds the roles of executive chair and CEO of Fox Corporation and co-chairman of News Corp, as well as executive chairman of NOVA Entertainment, an Australian media company.
James Murdoch, 49, is Rupert Murdoch’s fourth child and second son with his second wife, Anna. James’ early career choices was at odds with his father’s conservative newspaper empire. He dropped out of Harvard in 1995 to start his own hip-hop record label, Rawkus Records. After several years, he transitioned into executive roles within News Corporation and assumed the role of corporate company man. After Lachlan quit Fox in 2005, James was increasingly seen as the new heir apparent to his father.
In 2007, James became chairman of BSkyB. In 2011, he was named deputy COO of News Corporation, and chairman and CEO of News International. But as James was climbing to new heights within the empire, the company became engulfed in scandal when investigators and journalists discovered staff at some Murdoch tabloids in Britain had been hacking the phones of public figures and crime victims to get their stories. James was forced to step down as chairman of BSkyB as a result.
After several years hiatus, he rejoined the family business, eventually becoming chairman of Sky and CEO of 21st Century Fox, co-leading the company with older brother Lachlan, who served as executive chairman. The joint leadership arrangement didn’t work out, and James left 21st Century Fox in 2019 when the company was sold to Disney, and then left Sky when majority control was acquired by Comcast. Long known as the lone liberal of the Murdoch clan, James’ political differences with his family came to a head and he resigned from the board of News Corp in 2020, writing at the time, “My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.”
Elisabeth Murdoch, 53, is Rupert Murdoch’s second child, the first he had with second wife Anna Murdoch. Elisabeth began her training in the family business early with internships and entry level jobs at Murdoch properties. In 1996 she became managing director of Sky Networks at BSkyB. But several years later she was passed over for the role of chief executive at Sky.
Rupert considers Elisabeth to be most like him, but he has been more dismissive of her attempts to take the throne, saying at one point she’d have to figure out how many children she wanted to have before planning further advancement at the company. In 2000 she left the family business and went on to found Shine, one of the UK’s biggest independent production companies with shows like “The Biggest Loser,” “Master Chef,” and “History Cold Case.”
When News Corporation acquired Shine in 2011, Elisabeth attempted to take a seat on the News Corporation board, but scrutiny over the phone hacking scandal prevented that from happening. She left Shine after a merger with two other production companies. In 2019 she established a new production company, Sister, and in 2021 Sister funded the opening of a London branch of Ghetto Film School, a non-profit program geared toward introducing young people of color to the entertainment industry.
Rupert Murdoch and his first wife, Patricia Booker, a former department store model and flight attendant, married in 1956. She gave birth to his first child, a daughter named Prudence, two years later. The marriage lasted 11 years; they divorced in 1967.
Rupert met Anna Torv at his newspaper The Daily Mirror, in Sydney, where she was working as a reporter. A few months after his divorce from Patricia, Rupert and Anna married. They had three children together, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James, now the main contenders to be heir of the Murdoch empire. Over the years Anna published several novels, one of which featured a family that bore a striking resemblance to her own. She spent three decades raising their family and acting as Rupert’s loyal partner on the world stage. In the mid-1990’s, as Rupert approached conventional retirement age, Anna hoped his relentless drive to build the empire would subside, and he’d spend more time with her enjoying their golden years. Rupert was completely opposed to that idea. The disagreement led to an irreconcilable rift, and the two divorced in 1999, after 31 years of marriage.
Deng, 53, Rupert Murdoch’s third wife, is mother of his two youngest children Grace Murdoch, 20, and Chloe Murdoch, 18. Wendi met Rupert when she was working at his Star TV network in Hong Kong. The up-and-comer immediately charmed the media mogul; one former colleague said, “She was always someone who was going to do well. We just didn’t realize how well.” They married in June 1999, two years after meeting and only 17 days after Rupert’s divorce with his second wife Anna was finalized. Wendi grew to be one of Rupert’s closest advisers and confidantes, but his older children opposed the marriage and viewed Wendi as a potential competitor for control of the Murdoch empire. But after 14 years the marriage fell apart amid allegations of Wendi’s infidelity, on which she has declined to comment.
Former supermodel and ex-girlfriend of rock star Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall married Rupert Murdoch in 2016 when she was 59 and he was 85. The grown Murdoch children genuinely like Jerry and approved of the union, very different circumstances from his marriage to Wendi Deng. The London wedding was a joyful family affair and presented a rare moment of solidarity among the Murdoch clan. In August – 6 years after tying the knot – it was reported that Hall and Murdoch finalized their divorce.
Prudence Macleod is Rupert’s oldest child from his first marriage to Patricia Booker. Prudence never showed much of an interest in running the family business, so she has largely stayed out of the succession battle that has ensnared her siblings Elisabeth, Lachlan and James. She has held different positions at News Corporation throughout her career and currently sits on the board of Times Newspapers, Ltd. She also has a voting share in the Murdoch family trust.
Grace Murdoch & Chloe Murdoch
Grace, 20, and Chloe, 18, are Murdoch’s two youngest children from his marriage to Wendi Deng. They spent their childhoods shuttling between the family properties in New York, Los Angeles and Arizona and luxe vacation destinations around the globe. Both attended the prestigious Brearley School in Manhattan. Grace has now moved on to Yale University while Chloe studies at Stanford. The youngest Murdochs have non-voting shares in the Murdoch family trust, which positions them, along with their older half-siblings, to inherit billions.