Home Entertainment Gerald Levin, Media Executive Behind Time Warner-AOL Merger Debacle, Dies at 84

Gerald Levin, Media Executive Behind Time Warner-AOL Merger Debacle, Dies at 84


Gerald M. Levin, the former CEO of Time Warner who orchestrated its disastrous merger with AOL, died Wednesday. He was 84.

Levin’s grandchild Jake Maia Arlow confirmed his death to the New York Times, saying that Levin died in a hospital and lived in Long Beach, Calif. While a cause of death was not disclosed, Levin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Levin was named co-CEO of Time Warner alongside Steven J. Ross in 1992; he became the sole chief executive when Ross died months later from prostate cancer.

Levin and then-AOL CEO Steve Case announced the $350 billion deal to merge the two companies on Jan. 10, 2000, at the height of the dot-com bubble. After the merger, creating AOL Time Warner, factors like the dot-com recession greatly affected the company, leading to a historic $100 billion write-down. Levin resigned in 2002.

Prior to the AOL Time Warner debacle, Levin was an attorney who became a programming executive in 1972 at a regional pay-TV channel called Home Box Office. He was promoted to CEO a year later and, in 1975, convinced its parent company, Time Inc., to transmit HBO‘s signal nationwide via satellite.

“Advocating for HBO to be on the satellite was one of the most important decisions of my entire career,” Levin said in James Andrew Miller’s 2021 book “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers” (per NYT). “The only way you get ahead is if you see something that no one else sees and it’s a little crazy. Satellite at that time was kind of a dreamy thing, but the idea of making HBO into a national network rather than relying on a lot of little cable networks was a pretty big idea.”

Levin was elected a Time board member in 1988, and played a crucial role in the company’s merger with Warner Communications. As Time Warner CEO, he handled the acquisition of Turner Broadcasting System, bring CNN, TBS, the Cartoon Network and other cable assets into the company.

Levin was born on May 6, 1939, in Philadelphia to David and Pauline (Shantzer) Levin. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Haverford College in 1960, and received a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1963.

Levin was married three times: to Carol Needleman, Barbara Riley and Laurie Perlman. All three marriages ended in divorce.

Levin is survived by four children. He is preceded in death by his son Jonathan.