Las Vegas Casino Legend Kirk Kerkorian Dies at the Age of 98
Kirk Kerkorian, the Armenian-American billionaire who helped transform Las Vegas into the gambling capital it is today, died this week at the age of 98. Kirk Kerkorian was the man who made MGM Resorts into one of the world’s leading international gaming corporations, while creating the concept of the “mega-resort”.
Over the years, Kerkorian built the largest casino-resort in Las Vegas three different times: The International Hotel in 1969, the MGM Grand Hotel in 1973, and the new MGM Grand in 1993. He remained active in MGM Resorts until 2011, when he retired from the board at the age of 94.
Kerkorian was not only a gaming executive. He also amassed significant interests in the Hollywood movie industry and the auto industry. He also invested in airline travel in the mid-20th century. By the end of his life, Kerkorian had $4 billion in assets, while giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to humanitarian causes.
Las Vegas’s Most Private Gaming Mogul
As a Las Vegas businessman, Kirk Kerkorian was understated. The billionaire did not make a show of himself, like many of his competitors. He was a private man, but had a significant web of friendships which last over the decades.
In the entertainment and leisure industry, the respected gaming executive sounded almost defensive about maintaining a decades-long sense of public decorum.
Kirkorian said in a 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, [that] doesn’t mean I’m anti-social or a recluse.”
MGM Resorts Statement
MGM Resorts honored the man who sculpted the company into one of the big four US casino companies, alongside Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, and Las Vegas Sands Corp.
The MGM Resorts press release said, “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. He was also a generous humanitarian who donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities worldwide.”
$200 Million Donation to UCLA
In 2011, Kerkorian donated $200 million to the University of California at Las Angeles, setting up a fund at the university to benefit medical research, while establishing a number of academic programs. The donation is emblematic of a man who contributed his best to humanity.
The UCLA donation was by no means his only meaningful contribution to society. In fact, Kerkorian was one of the first Americans to join the Allied war effort against Hitler and the Axis Powers.
Kirk Kerkorian was born in 1917 in Fresno. His Armenian family made a fortune during World War I, but that fortune proved fleeting. In the 8th grade, he left school to find his own way in life. Kerkorian worked as a newspaper delivery boy, then later found jobs as a bouncer in a bowling alley. He had been an amateur boxer in his early days.
When World War II broke out, Kerkorian traveled to Canada to sign up for the Royal Air Force. He flew the so-called “suicide runs”, which were transatlantic flights of unarmed bombers from Canada to England for a $1,000 a trip.
Charter Air Service
After WWII, Kerkorian founded an Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas air service, which he built into a significant service over a 20-year period. In 1968, he sold that company for $85 million. The next year, he invested in the Las Vegas casino industry. The International he built in 1969 was not his first foray into the business. Back in 1962, he bought land from the Flamingo Casino, then rented that land to the developer who would build Caesars Palace.
Caesars Palace and MGM Grand
Thus, Kirk Kerkorian had a hand in building two of the Las Vegas Strip’s iconic resorts: Caesars Palace and the MGM Grand. He also built the casino now known as Bally’s (since 1986), which began as the MGM Hotel in 1973.
Beyond Las Vegas, Kerkorian owned a significant stake in several All-American companies. He owned some or all of MGM Studioes (3 different times), United Artists, Chrysler, and General Motors.
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