Las Vegas mogul Kirk Kerkorian dead at 98

GMT 21:56 2015 Tuesday ,16 June

Arab Today, arab today Las Vegas mogul Kirk Kerkorian dead at 98

Kirk Kerkorian
New York - AFP

Kirk Kerkorian, a billionaire school dropout credited with helping transform Las Vegas into a gambler's paradise, has died aged 98.

Kerkorian, who also amassed major stakes in movie and auto companies, passed away in Los Angeles of undisclosed causes late Monday, according to MGM Resorts International, the casino giant he founded.

Born into an Armenian family in Fresno, California, Kerkorian rolled the dice throughout his life, almost always to great riches.

He gambled on airline travel, Hollywood pictures and the auto industry en route to accumulating a fortune estimated last year at $4 billion.

Most of all, Kerkorian hit the jackpot in Las Vegas, where he developed the first mega-resorts and beat the odds by controlling the main hotels on the famous Las Vegas strip.

Kerkorian kept building his casino empire well into his 80s, overseeing the $4.4 billion purchase of Mirage Resorts from rival Stephen Wynn in 2000 and buying the Mandalay Resort Group in 2004 for $4.8 billion.

Kerkorian did not give up his board seat at MGM International until 2011, when he was appointed chairman emeritus only weeks before his 94th birthday.

At the time of his death, he held 18.6 percent of the company through his Beverly Hills investment company Tracinda, making him MGM's biggest shareholder.

"Mr. Kerkorian was a quiet but powerful force behind the transformation of the Las Vegas Strip into one of the world's most popular tourist destinations," MGM Resorts said in a statement.

"He was also a generous humanitarian who donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities worldwide."

- Early Vegas payoff -

Kerkorian was born in 1917 to Armenian immigrants who found fleeting wealth during the raisin boom of World War I, only to lose it a few years later.

After his family moved to Los Angeles, Kerkorian dropped out of school after the eighth grade, and worked odd jobs as a newspaper delivery boy, a bouncer in a bowling alley and an amateur boxer.

During World War II, he went to Canada and joined the Royal Air Force, delivering unarmed Canadian bombers to European bases on "suicide runs" for $1,000 a trip.

After the war, he started a small charter Los Angeles-Las Vegas air service which he sold in 1968 to the TransAmerica Corporation for $85 million worth of stock.

In the meanwhile, in 1962 he bought 30 hectares (80 acres) across from the Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas for $960,000. He rented the land to the developer of what became Caesars Palace.

In 1969, on another plot, Kerkorian built the International, at the time the world's largest hotel, and then topped that in 1973 with the larger MGM Grand.

In 1986 Kerkorian sold that hotel, which was renamed Bally's, and built a new MGM Grand, which opened in 1993 with another record-setting 5,000 rooms.

- Hollywood, Detroit pursuits -

His wheeling and dealing was not confined to Las Vegas. He bought and sold the legendary MGM studios in Hollywood three times. He first combined it with United Artists, which he then sold to Ted Turner in 1986.

Turner's financial woes saw him reselling much of the company back to Kerkorian, who then sold the studio again in 1990, this time to Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti.

Kerkorian recouped the studio after Parretti defaulted on his loans in 1996. He sold MGM a third time in 2005, to a consortium backed by Japan's Sony.

In the auto industry, Kerkorian accumulated a large stake in Chrysler in the mid-1990s and launched a takeover effort that ultimately failed.

In 2006, he built up a big position in General Motors and made an effort to push the US auto giant into an alliance with Nissan-Renault. That failed, and Kerkorian sold his stake.

He turned his attention first back to Chrysler, with a failed bid, and then Ford. In the latter he took huge losses after the industry crashed in the 2008 economic crisis.

Kerkorian was known for being private, and was compared to the recluse Howard Hughes.

But he told a Las Vegas newspaper in a rare 1999 interview, "I'm far from being reclusive. I have 30- or 40-year friendships that I prefer to meeting new people. I go to an occasional party, but just because I don't go to a lot of events, and I'm not out in public all the time doesn't mean I'm anti-social or a recluse."

Armeniapedia, a website focusing on the Armenian community, said Kerkorian donated $180 million to Armenia, with many of the funds going to rebuild highways and housing hit by a 1988 earthquake.

In 2011, Kerkorian donated $200 million to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), which established a fund devoted to medical research and academic programs at the university.

Kerkorian was married three times and is survived by his daughters, Tracy Kerkorian and Linda Ross Hilton Kemper, and by three grandchildren, MGM said.


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