Jerry Levin sits in a sunlight-splashed room in Santa Monica, California, overlooking a courtyard fountain and a weeping willow. He wears a droopy sweater in a muted tone and a pair of comfortable sneakers. He nibbles an organic vegan lunch that’s been prepared for us by the chef here at Moonview Sanctuary.
“We want you to enjoy the meal,” Levin says to me, “without any pressure with respect to the article that you have to write.” I tell him it’s difficult for me to hang loose when I’m doing my job. “That’s the way I used to treat business meals,” he says. “There would be food, but I never enjoyed it.”
Gerald Levin was once chairman and CEO of Time Warner. He oversaw 90,000 employees. He served as a director of the New York Stock Exchange and was a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. He was perhaps the most powerful media executive in the world.
Today, Levin is presiding director of Moonview Sanctuary, a “holistic healing institute” with a full-time staff of fewer than twenty people. Just down the hall from us is a yoga room with an extremely large gong. Another room holds tribal hand drums, Tibetan bowls, and traditional gamelan instruments—all used in ceremonial “men’s circles” led by Moonview clinicians. There’s a massage and acupuncture room. A chiropractic room. A room where Moonview clients can work on their “journaling.” In the hallway is a marble Buddha statue, posed in a mudra representing service and protection. The statue was a gift from Levin to his wife, Laurie, who is Moonview’s founder and CEO.
Levin first met Dr. Laurie Perlman in June 2002. Musing on his future plans in a CNN interview with Lou Dobbs, Levin had said he hoped to bring “the poetry” back into his life. Laurie saw the quote, and its delicate sentiment struck a chord with her. She called Levin to request a meeting, and for reasons he still can’t fully explain, he gave her half an hour the next Monday morning.
“I don’t know why I was compelled to meet with her,” he says between slow, careful bites of tofu. “It seemed like it was coming so far out of left field. At first I thought she was asking for an investment, and that would have turned me off immediately. But she was smart enough not to say that—even if she had that in mind.”
Levin, 68, sports an off-and-on gray beard and a California tan these days, but back then, he was a pale, clean-shaven executive. About a month prior to his meeting with Laurie, he’d retired from Time Warner, after ten years as its CEO, in the wake of a devastating misstep: the ill-fated merger with AOL, which he’d eagerly spearheaded and which had essentially vaporized $200 billion of shareholder money. The stock was down 70 percent since the deal. Exiled to a temporary office, he was preparing to depart in shame from the company he’d worked at for over 30 years and ran for ten.
“You could hunt elk in this office, it was so big,” says Laurie. Laurie is a blonde 54-year-old. She’s quick to smile, and there’s something girlish in the way she flops down for a chat on the overstuffed couch in her office. She spent 25 years in the entertainment industry—first as an agent at CAA (her bio says she scouted and signed Madonna and Michael Keaton) and later as the head of her own film-production company—before she changed gears and entered an unaccredited, three-year psychology program at Ryokan College in Los Angeles. Upon getting her degree, she developed a plan to create a “temple of transformation, about self-love and inner peace,” which would cater to people in the public eye. Why did she feel that Gerald Levin might help her launch a boutique wellness clinic? “Because who better would understand the need to have a safe place to take a tumble in private,” she says.
To prepare for her meeting with Levin, Laurie consulted an unusual confidant. “Before we met, I Googled Jerry’s info and started to pull up the articles around Jonathan and his murder,” she says. In 1997, Levin experienced the worst tragedy imaginable for a parent. His 31-year-old son, Jonathan, who’d chosen to work as an English teacher at a public high school in the Bronx, was brutally robbed, tortured, and killed in his Upper West Side apartment by a former student and an accomplice. They bound Jonathan with duct tape, cut him with a knife until he revealed his ATM number, went outside to withdraw $800 from his bank account, then returned and shot him in the head.