Real Estate Mogul Dies at 98

The man who rose from an impoverished childhood in California to become a billionaire and owner of several hotels has died on Monday.
Courtesy: Ian Sutton, flickr

Courtesy: Ian Sutton, flickr

Kirk Kerkorian, who rose from an impoverished childhood in California to become a billionaire credited with helping build the famous Las Vegas Strip as the owner of several hotels including the MGM Grand, has died at the age of 98.

The son of Armenian immigrants who only had an eighth-grade education, Kerkorian also invested in film studios, airlines and automobile companies. A daredevil pilot in his early years he was also a high-stakes poker player and became known for making big gambles in his business ventures as well. Some paid off, others weren’t as successful, but Kerkorian still became one of the richest men in America.

“Mr. Kerkorian combined brilliant business insight with steadfast integrity to become one of the most reputable and influential financiers of our time,” Jim Murren, chairman & CEO of MGM Resorts International, said in a prepared statement.

“MGM Resorts and our family of 62,000 employees are honoring the memory of a great man, a great business leader, a great community leader, an innovator and one of our country’s greatest generation,” Murren added.

Kerkorian was the founder of MGM Resorts International, one of the largest global hospitality companies and the owner-operators of resorts including Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage in Las Vegas. The firm also owns 50 percent of the $8.5 billion CityCenter in Las Vegas, which features ARIA Resort and Casino. It is developing MGM National Harbor in Maryland and MGM Springfield in Massachusetts. The company also owns 51 percent of MGM China Holdings Ltd. with gaming resorts in Macau and Cotai.

The statement from MGM Resorts International credits Kerkorian as a “quiet but powerful force behind the transformation of the Las Vegas Strip into one of the most popular tourist destinations, through the development of the International, MGM and MGM Grand,” hotels and casinos.

He also owned Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Tracinda, Corp., a private investment firm named after his daughters, Tracy and Linda. A founding member of the Board of Directors of MGM Resorts, he had served as Director Emeritus since 2011.

During World War II, Kerkorian was a pilot for the Royal Air Force. After the war, he began a business called Trans International Airlines that brought gamblers to Las Vegas. In 1962, he bought 80 acres of property on the Las Vegas Strip where Caesars Palace now stands, according to USA Today. In 1969, he opened the International, which was considered the world’s largest resort hotel. Four years later, the MGM Grand opened, which was even bigger.

He bought MGM Studios for the first time in 1969 and later bought and sold it two more times. Kerkorian also owned part of Columbia Pictures for awhile before selling that and later making a failed bid for 20th Century Fox. He was more successful with United Artists and combined MGM into two public companies – MGM/UA Entertainment and MGM Grand Hotels, which also owned hotels, casinos and cruise ships, according to the New York Times. Kerkorian’s investments also included a failed attempt to take over Chrysler. He later owned and sold stakes in General Motors and Ford Motor Co.

Kerkorian’s companies were still making Las Vegas real estate deals late in his life, including acquiring the Mirage Resorts in 2000 and Mandalay Bay Resorts in 2004, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to his daughters, Tracey Kerkorian and Linda Ross Hilton Kemper, he is survived by three grandchildren.