Logan Roy, conservative media mogul who shaped contemporary politics, dies at 84

Just days ago, Logan Roy paid a surprise visit to the American Television Network newsroom and delivered a saber-rattling speech outlining an aggressive vision for the conservative cable news network as it heads into a presidential election.

It was midafternoon, and standing atop boxes of printer paper, the embattled chief executive of media conglomerate Waystar Royco urged his employees to vanquish ATN’s rivals, reducing them to “f— jam smears on the highway.” After years marked by declining health, embarrassing scandals and constant speculation over his possible retirement, Roy made it clear that he had no plans to go gently into that good night.

Update:

7:02 p.m. April 9, 2023Editor’s Note: This “obituary” for a fictional character is a spoiler from Season 4, Episode 3 of HBO’s “Succession.” It has been updated with a statement from his fictional children.

“Anyone who believes that I’m getting out, please, shove the bunting up your ass,” he said, using the floridly profane language that was his calling card. “This is not the end. I’m going to build something better. Something faster, lighter, meaner, wilder. And I’m gonna do it from in here, with you lot, you f— pirates!”

His final ambition was not to be, however. Roy died Sunday while traveling to Sweden aboard a company jet. He was 84, we think.

“My brothers and I just want to say that Logan Roy built a great American family company,” Roy’s youngest child, Siobhan Roy, said in a brief statement to reporters. “As you know, the board will be convening in the next hours to decide on the leadership of the company going forward. This nation has lost a passionate champion and an American titan, and we lost a beloved father.”

Asked about the Roy children’s role in Waystar Royco going forward, she replied, “We intend to shepherd it through whatever its future may be, but we’ll be there. We intend to be there.”

Roy’s cause of death has not been confirmed, but he reportedly collapsed shortly after takeoff from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, and attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. Roy and a team of advisors were believed to be en route to Sweden to meet with Lukas Matsson, the mercurial chief executive of the tech streaming giant GoJo, to finalize the terms of a deal to acquire Waystar Royco.

Fittingly, for a domineering figure who wielded suffocating power over his family, Roy died as his eldest son, Connor — an eccentric Libertarian who is currently waging a long-shot bid for the presidency — married theater producer Willa Ferreyra in New York City. The three youngest Roy siblings, who had been estranged from their father since he orchestrated their ouster from the company several months ago, abruptly departed the wedding, immediately triggering suspicion among guests that something was awry. By the time the company jet landed back at Teterboro, photographers already lined the perimeter of the airport.

Roy’s death leaves Waystar Royco, already buffeted by controversy and internal turmoil, without a clear successor. The price of company shares plummeted after the news broke on Sunday, even though the markets should have been closed.

Two men in dark suits raise a hand to take an oath.

Logan, left, and Kendall Roy testify before the Senate about misconduct at Waystar Royco. Jeremy Strong portrays Kendall.

(Zach Dilgard / HBO)

A spokesperson for HBO, which has handled media for Waystar Royco since 2018, declined The Times’ repeated requests to make anyone available for comment.

Rising from humble origins in Scotland, Roy took a modest family-run printing business and built it into Waystar Royco, one of the largest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world. His expansive holdings included the perennially top-rated ATN, Hollywood giant Waystar Studios, Brightstar Adventure theme parks and newspapers including the influential tabloid the NY Globe.

To his supporters, Roy, known for his dismissive catchphrase “f— off,” was an unapologetic champion for conservative voices in mainstream media and a living example of the free-market, by-the-bootstraps policies he espoused. To his detractors, Roy was — more than any other single figure — responsible for coarsening the political discourse in the United States, eroding public trust in journalism and providing a platform for xenophobia, misogyny and climate denialism.

Roy leaves his media empire in a perilous state of transition that began nearly five years ago when he suffered a debilitating stroke. The health crisis triggered a heated battle among his adult children to succeed him as chief executive of Waystar Royco, turmoil that was intensified by a scheme involving hush money payments to women sexually assaulted by former executives in the company’s cruise division, which raised questions about Roy’s leadership and resulted in a Senate hearing. The mogul attempted to deflect blame for the scandal — and the ensuing cover-up — onto his second-oldest son, Kendall. But in a stunning public rebuke, the younger Roy alleged that his father was aware of the abuses and had personally approved financial payouts to the victims.

A silver-haired gentleman in a dark tuxedo at a microphone.

Logan Roy at the 50th anniversary celebration for his company, Waystar Royco, in Dundee, Scotland.

(Graeme Hunter / HBO)

“The truth is, my father is a malignant presence, a bully and a liar” with a “twisted sense of loyalty to bad actors” within the firm, Kendall Roy said in a televised news conference.

The ugly father-son rift was typical of Roy, who was nearly as ruthless in his private life as he was in the boardroom.

A member of Roy’s inner circle recalled a time when the media titan phoned Kendall’s assistant with a savage message: “I’m gonna grind his f— bones to make my bread.”

“He’s tough, he’s wily, but he’s always true to his word” is how Frank Vernon, Roy’s longtime confidant and Waystar Royco’s former COO, once described him. Roy’s son Roman put it this way: “He can do whatever he likes. He’s a human Saudi Arabia.”

By his own account, Roy was driven by a desire to escape the privations of his childhood in Dundee, Scotland, once telling his son Connor that money was his “Rosebud” — that is, the animating force in his life. “It’s whatever it took to get me the f— out of here.”

Roy was born in the port city in 1938 and grew up with few of the creature comforts that he would later enjoy; according to legend, his family home did not have indoor plumbing. His mother, Helen Elspeth Roy, a widow, struggled to provide for Roy and his older brother, Ewan. Roy found solace in bird-watching and was known to sometimes exaggerate his sightings — a flair for grandiosity he would later display in his aggressive dealmaking. A sister named Rose died in childhood under mysterious circumstances; Roy is said to have blamed himself for her death but never spoke publicly about the matter.

As World War II ravaged Europe, the Roy brothers were sent to live with an uncle in Canada who ran a print shop. Roy has indicated that his uncle was physically abusive. According to family members, he rarely swam because of the scars still visible on his back from childhood lashings.

Roy formed Waystar in the late 1960s and later merged with Royco to become Waystar Royco. It’s the fifth-largest media conglomerate in the world, valued at nearly $16.4 billion. Headquartered in New York City, the company operates in 50 countries across four continents in the sectors of entertainment, news and resorts. Its media outlets include the NY Globe, the Cincinnati Standard, the Chicago Daily, Les Temps du Paris and the Shenzen Sun, as well as TV networks ATN, its flagship, NCN, and LNN. Waystar also owns the movie production company Waystar Studios, which last released the children’s film “The Biggest Turkey in the World” and has produced a range of titles, from the blockbuster “Kalispitron” franchise to the cerebral festival favorite “Eric Is a Sinner.”

Roy’s repeated success through the years made for an unyielding business outlook: “People come to us because we don’t sell them on anything,” he once declared in an internal meeting. “No packet of f— bleeding heart, United Nations-Volvo-gender-bender horses—.”

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) with his daughter, Siobhan Roy (Sarah Snook).

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) with his daughter, Siobhan Roy (Sarah Snook).

(Hunter Graeme / HBO)

Under Roy’s leadership, the company has also made aggressive but messy forays into digital media, acquiring the news aggregation site Vaulter for $1 billion in 2018, only to shut it down months later amid a unionization push. The recent rollout of its film and TV streaming platform, StarGo, was marred by embarrassing glitches.

Always known for its conservative outlook, ATN has in recent years adopted an increasingly strident political tone embodied by Mark Ravenhead, host of “The Bunker” and an alt-right firebrand who married at Adolf Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps. With Roy’s blessing, the network has also championed the presidential candidacy of Rep. Jeryd Mencken, a white nationalist provocateur.

Though his bullish demeanor loomed large, Roy had soft spots for life’s simple pleasantries. He was an admirer of lasagna and canned cranberry sauce. Despite having never served in the military, he treasured his collection of war medals, which included a Victoria Cross and a WWI 16th Infantry Canadian medal. And being a multibillionaire made him an enigma when it came to gift-giving. His son Kendall once joked that attempts to gift him Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s biography were futile: He already owned seven copies.

Despite his increasingly frail health, Roy showed no signs of slowing down or curtailing his ferocious temper. Roy, whose last name derives from the Norman word for “king,” ruled over his media dynasty like an absolute monarch and showed little mercy to anyone who stood in his way — even family. He could be astonishingly cruel and vindictive. In one notorious incident that took place during a hunting trip in Hungary, Roy forced his son-in-law, Tom Wambsgans, great-nephew, Greg Hirsch, and Waystar Chief Financial Officer Karl Muller to crawl on the ground eating sausages — a humiliating game he called “boar on the floor” — because he suspected them of speaking to biographer Michelle Pantsil.

More recently, he maneuvered to strip his three youngest children, Kendall, Roman and Siobhan, of their control over Waystar Royco because they objected to the GoJo deal. The siblings retaliated by acquiring the venerated Pierce Global Media, an asset their father had coveted for years. Roy also remained close to Wambsgans, now one of the top executives at ATN, despite his bitter divorce proceedings with Siobhan Roy.

Relations with his brother, Ewan, an environmental activist who donated the $250-million fortune he amassed as a Waystar shareholder to Greenpeace, had been estranged for decades as ATN and Waystar’s newspapers embraced hard-line conservative views.

Little is known about Roy’s first wife, the mother of his eldest son, Connor, but she struggled with mental illness and was involuntarily admitted to a residential psychiatric hospital under Roy’s orders. His second marriage, to British aristocrat Caroline Collingwood, helped Roy expand his influence in the United Kingdom. The couple had three children and later divorced but renegotiated the terms of their settlement months ago in order to force their children out of the business. Relations with his third wife, Marcia Roy — who once lived in France and was possibly born in Lebanon, but no one can say for sure — have been estranged since Rhea Jarrell’s brief tenure as chief executive of Waystar Royco.

Roy is survived by his wife, Marcia; children, Connor Roy, Kendall Roy, Roman Roy and Siobhan Roy; grandchildren, Iverson and Sophie Roy; and great-nephew, Greg Hirsch.

To the end, he was one of the most ruthless and polarizing media barons of his generation. And he relished confronting the seismic changes transforming the industry.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, everything changes,” Roy once said. “The studio was gonna tank when I bought it. Everyone was gonna stay home with video tapes, but guess what? No! They wanna go out! No one was gonna watch network except you give it zing, and they do. You make your own reality. And once you’ve done it, apparently, everyone’s of the opinion it was all so f— obvious.”

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