“I meditated and got myself into a place where I was very relaxed and awake,” says Laurie. “You remain empty to receive the answer, and you see what comes through. And Jon talked to me. I thought he was preparing me for the meeting. But he was also preparing me for Jerry’s and my relationship, though I didn’t know it at the time.”
She did not mention to Levin, at this initial meeting, that she’d spoken with his dead son. But six months later, the two of them went to dinner at Michael’s, and the mood became more intimate. Laurie decided this was a good moment to discuss what she calls “soul communion.”
“Normally, it would have offended me,” says Levin. “Particularly when anyone mentioned my son, I would just shut down. But without knowing why, from an emotional point of view, I received this as being real. It was so far beyond my own belief system, yet in an intuitive flash it seemed so real to me and so believable. So I was drawn to that.”
He was drawn to Laurie too. It was on this night that Levin says he first realized they would be “partners in love.” They began to talk on the phone eight hours a day. Soon after (though he says his marriage had long been dying of its own accord), Levin asked his wife of 32 years for a divorce.
Although they won’t disclose Moonview Sanctuary’s revenue, Laurie and Jerry say it’s very close to breaking even. And it’s been successful enough that they’re now actively seeking to open a second branch in New York. Laurie has already bought furnishings for a New York Moonview. She spent several days in Bali choosing them, and they’re now waiting in storage. “She’s got some extraordinary pieces in,” says Jerry with pride. They’re looking for about 8,000 square feet somewhere in Manhattan. At one point, they had a deal on a space in Chelsea, but it fell through.
“The need is enormous there,” says Jerry. “The wellness stuff is there—Chopra has a center right in Manhattan. But on the high end right now, people get sent to Pennsylvania, to Tucson, to Promises.”
Whatever business potential it might hold for Moonview, for Levin a return to New York is a weighty move. It was only five years ago that he fled Manhattan. “The merger drove him to reinvent himself because it was such a public failure,” says a former colleague, who knew and worked with Levin for many years. “After that, he left his job, his industry, his city, and his marriage.”
How does one recover from a failure like that—as Laurie puts it, “a tumble”? As a CEO, Levin says, “I had the arrogance of power. The ability to do things, to fly anywhere, and whether I was being written about positively or negatively, it didn’t matter because I was always written about. That suffuses into your identity.” If and when he comes back now, it will be on far humbler terms. Among the old Time Warner guard, there are embers of resentment that flame at the mention of Jerry Levin. Of course, much of the animosity stems from the AOL merger. (There’s a feeling that Levin has never really apologized for his role in the debacle, and former co-workers left holding ravaged pensions harbor a particularly acute rage.) But the antipathy goes deeper: Levin’s climb up the corporate ladder left him with a fair number of enemies.
A former attorney at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Levin got his start with Time Inc. at HBO. One might even say on HBO: Levin was the first person to appear on the network, welcoming viewers when it launched with a hockey game in 1972. Three years later, in a brilliant move, he pushed to have the channel distributed over satellite. The world’s first satellite-TV broadcast was the live HBO telecast of the Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match. The accomplishment drove up Time Inc. stock and forged Levin’s reputation as a media-industry seer. Levin was Time Inc.’s (and later Time Warner’s, after the 1990 merger with Warner Communications that he helped negotiate) eggheaded “resident genius”—aided by a perceived facility for quickly grasping the possibilities of new technology.
By the end of 1998, Levin’s vision seemed golden. His was the biggest and best-regarded media conglomerate in the country, prompting the New York Times to refer to “the wonderful world of Time Warner.” The stock shot up 61 percent over a twelve-month period. With hits like ER and Friends, Warner Bros.’s TV division was throwing off billions. And Levin’s $12 billion acquisition of Ted Turner’s cable networks and 2 million new cable subscribers—at a time when the cable industry was thought to be on the wane—were proving to be shrewd, forward-looking moves. And so, in January 2000, when Levin believed wholeheartedly that then-hot America Online would be the savior of his “old media” behemoth, he kept some of his top managers in the dark about the deal, rather than seek their counsel. Levin traded 55 percent of Time Warner in exchange for AOL stock. Then the Internet bubble burst.