He once snubbed President Barack Obama and, in a poll of British schoolchildren in 2008, was declared more famous than God.
Simon Cowell may not look it, but he is one of the most powerful men in TV in both America and the U.K.
Witness the media frenzy last week when he finally confirmed that he was leaving American Idol. So inextricably is he linked with Idol, it’s been speculated the most popular show on American TV can’t survive without him.
Not bad for a guy who started out in the mailroom of a British music company and had to move back home with his parents for five years when he went bust in 1989.
Cowell told the Television Critics Association tour last week that his decision to leave Idol wasn’t about money. The 50-year-old, whose personal fortune has been pegged at more than $200 million, was offered “a lot” to stay with the show: some say $100 million a year.
“I felt like doing something different. I like the challenge,” he told the critics.
It’s no secret that Cowell is a driven man. It’s been said he takes just one holiday a year, doesn’t sleep much and has his daytimer booked 18 months in advance (supposedly he snubbed Obama because he couldn’t find a chunk of time to have dinner with the president).
He made his career in A&R (artist and repertoire) with music companies including EMI, where his father got him his first mailroom job, the now defunct Fanfare Records, BMG and his own label, Syco.
But it was TV that made him a household name, beginning with Pop Idol in the U.K., which led to American Idol. His combination of sarcastic wit and brutal honesty has been like catnip to TV viewers, a formula he no doubt hopes will make The X Factor as big a hit here as it is in Britain.
And don’t think it begins and ends with a TV show. Cowell reportedly has his sights set on creating an entertainment empire that would rival Disney.
SOME FACTS ABOUT AMERICAN IDOL’S DEPARTING JUDGE
Born in Brighton Oct. 7, 1959; raised in Elstree, Hertfordshire.
Left school at 15 or 16. Had jobs as window cleaner, lawn mower and waiter before joining record company EMI.
His father, Eric Cowell, ran EMI’s property division. He died at home in 1999 of a massive heart attack on the same day Simon got his first No. 1 with the then unknown Irish band Westlife, who his dad had predicted would become big. His mother, Julie Brett, who is still alive, was a ballet dancer. He grew up next door to the head of Warner Bros. UK. His brother Tony says Simon once sat on film legend Bette Davis’s lap. When she asked if he wanted to be an actor, he said, “No, because all actors smell” since she’d been smoking.
Cowell left EMI in 1984 to join Fanfare Records with Iain Burton. In 1989, Fanfare’s parent company failed, forcing Cowell to move back in with his parents for five years. When he was 30, he got an A&R job with BMG where he signed Robson & Jerome, who had the biggest selling British single of 1995 with their version of “Unchained Melody.” Hired in 2001 by Simon Fuller to do Pop Idol, where he became known as Mr. Nasty. Fuller, a friend, sued him in 2004 when X Factor launched, effectively killing Pop Idol. They settled out of court.
His first TV appearance was in 1990 on a U.K. show called Sale of the Century. He won kitchen utensils (apparently he doesn’t cook).
He has three principal employers: Fox, Sony and ITV. He reportedly earned $46 million from American Idol in 2007, just over $15 million from Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, and $12.3 million from his record label. Forbes called him the best-paid man on prime-time TV last year, earning an estimated $77 million from June 2008 to June 2009.
He has had failures: in 2000 he tried unsuccessfully to launch a Spice Girls-like group called Girl Thing.
Cowell has teamed up with Britain’s sixth richest person, Sir Philip Green, to create a global entertainment company that would launch The X Factor in the U.S., take back the show rights from Sony and market branded products , including a theme park. “They’re thinking in terms of a new Disney,” a source was quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph.
Tony Cowell told The Daily Mirror that Simon watches Desperate Housewives and reads Jackie Collins, James Patterson and John Grisham novels. The Independent says he has Star Wars and Jaws in his DVD collection and watches The Flintstones in the bath.
His $25 million Los Angeles home is all white, except for the black swimming pool, his brother says. The Sunday Times says it has a tanning salon, gym, luxury spa and lap pool, and a room for his ex-girlfriend, Terri Seymour.
Speaking of his love life, Cowell reportedly had a 20-year, on-and-off relationship with Sinitta, who sang one of his first hits, “So Macho,” and nicknamed him “Mummy Look” because of his desire to impress his mother. He also dated Seymour, an Extra correspondent, for about six years.
He has a passion for cars, including a $1.2 million Bugatti Veyron.
Sources: The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph
Torstar Syndication Services
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