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Billionaire Investor Kirk Kerkorian Dies At 98

Kirk Kerkorian arrives at the premiere of the HBO documentary <em>His Way</em> in Hollywood, Calif., in 2011. The billionaire helped revitalize the Las Vegas Strip.
Alberto E. Rodriguez
Getty Images
Kirk Kerkorian arrives at the premiere of the HBO documentary His Way in Hollywood, Calif., in 2011. The billionaire helped revitalize the Las Vegas Strip.

Kirk Kerkorian, child of Armenian immigrants, casino magnate, World War II pilot and grade-school dropout, died Monday night in Los Angeles. He was 98.

The Los Angeles Times reports Kerkorian died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Kerkorian, who founded MGM Resorts International and built the largest hotel in the world three different times, was known for making the Las Vegas Strip a destination not just for adults, but entire families.

The chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, Jim Murren, called Kerkorian "a great man, a great business leader, a great community leader, an innovator, and one of our country's greatest generation." He added, "Mr. Kerkorian combined brilliant business insight with steadfast integrity to become one of the most reputable and influential financiers of our time."

Kerkorian was born in 1917 in Fresno, Calif. The family ranch failed in the recession of 1921-22, according to the Times, and Kerkorian's father then tried to make ends meet by selling fruit. Kerkorian's sister Rose told the Times in 2005 that "everyone was hungry. ... We had to move every three months, because we couldn't pay our rent."

Kerkorian left school at 16 and became an amateur boxer. During World War II, he flew warplanes from Canada to Britain. The Associated Press reports that Kerkorian bought a small charter line in 1947 and eventually took the company public.

The Times says Kerkorian opened the original MGM Grand hotel and casino in Las Vegas in the 1970s and went on to acquire such properties as the Mirage and the Bellagio. But the Las Vegas Review-Journal says Kerkorian was interested in more than just the Las Vegas Strip:

"He dabbled in airlines, once owning about 17 percent of now defunct Western Airlines in the 1970s. In 1991, he made a failed bid for Trans World Airlines.

"Hollywood also held his interest. Three times, Kerkorian bought and sold the film studio MGM/United Artists. Three times, he made a profit.

"The U.S. auto industry also captivated Kerkorian.

"In the 1990s, he bought a large chunk of the Chrysler Corp., but sold the stock after launching a failed hostile tender offer.

"In 2005 and 2006, Kerkorian made moves on General Motors Corp., becoming the automaker's largest shareholder before cashing out altogether. In April 2007, Kerkorian made one last stab at Chrysler Corp., offering $4.5 billion. The bid failed."

MGM Resorts International says Kerkorian is survived by two daughters, Tracy Kerkorian and Linda Ross Hilton Kemper, as well as by three grandchildren.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam worked at Vermont Public Radio from October 1978 to September 2017 in various capacities – almost always involving audio engineering. He excels at sound engineering for live performances.
Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.