UPDATED: Kirk Kerkorian was a major Hollywood force over two decades before 1986 when he sold MGM Studios to Ted Turner, and then again for nearly a decade in 1996 when he regained control. He died Monday, nine days after he turned 98.
“Kirk Kerkorian will be forever linked to the history and success of MGM,” CEO Gary Barber says. “We know that his legacy and fighting spirit will live on through all of our future endeavors.”
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said that the billionaire “combined brilliant business insight with steadfast integrity to become one of the most reputable and influential financiers of our time. Personally, he was a friend and coach, who taught me the importance in looking forward, and to look back only to understand how things could be done better.”
Kerkorian was MGM Resorts’ majority shareholder until 2009 when he dropped his holding to 37%.
Although he rarely gave interviews. Kerkorian cut a wide swath from his private holding company, Tracinda Corporation. In addition to his studio deals, he drove the development of mega resorts in Las Vegas at the International Hotel, the MGM Grand Hotel, an the MGM Grand. In 2000 he paid $6.4 billion for Steve Wynn’s Mirage Resorts, and in 2004 paid $4.8 billion for Mandalay Resort Group.
He also was engaged in multiple efforts to become an auto industry power: In 1995 he and former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca made a hostile bid for the company that was thwarted. He also bought major stakes in General Motors and Ford that he eventually sold.
A pilot during World War II, Kerkorian began to build his fortune in the 1950s with a charter service that flew between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Seeing the gambling business begin to boom, he bought property there that he sold for $9 million in 1968 to the company that built Caesar’s Palace.
The following year he bought MGM, which he dismantled and largely sold. But he held on to much of the library, supplementing it with United Artists, which he bought in 1981. He sold the company in 1986 to cable pioneer Ted Turner, who was eager to secure Hollywood programming. But he had overextended himself and sold UA back to Kerkorian — later returning MGM except for the pre-1986 MGM films and pre-1950 ones from Warner Bros.
The studio became trading bait again in 1990 when Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti swooped in with a $1.2 billion offer. But he, too, bit off more than he could chew and sold MGM to Credit Lyonnais. It sold MGM back to Kerkorian in 1996.
Kerkorian is survived by two daughters, Tracy Kerkorian and Linda Ross Hilton Kemper, and three grandchildren.