Meshulam Riklis, a billionaire businessman best known as the husband of actress Pia Zadora and the fulcrum of a Golden Globes scandal in the 1980s, has died in a Tel Aviv hospital, according to his family. He was 95.
Riklis was accused of lavishly wooing members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in advance of the 1982 Golden Globes, sponsoring a junket two months before the event to his Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and a major press luncheon and screening at his Beverly Hills mansion.
Zadora subsequently won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture in 1982 for her role in Butterfly, which Riklis co-produced. The movie had not opened in the U.S. at the time.
Riklis also raised eyebrows in 1988 when he and Zadora bought the Pickfair mansion from then-L.A. Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and then went wild with renovations, resulting in a drastically altered building and much consternation among its neighbors.
Born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1923, Riklis moved to the U.S. in 1947 with his first wife, Judith Stern. He studied mathematics at Ohio State University, later earning a master’s degree in finance from the school.
He became a stock analyst and soon developed a way to use high-yield bonds and leveraged buyouts to take control of firms, shuffling assets into and out of them.
An entrepreneur by heart, Riklis started Carnival Cruise Lines in the 1970s and he later had stakes in Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, Faberge, RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres and Samsonite. He became one of Forbes’ wealthiest Americans and claimed billionaire status by the mid-’80s.
He also financed G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a syndicated program featuring female pro wrestlers. It became the inspiration for the Netflix fictionalized scripted series GLOW.
Riklis hit a rough patch financially in the 1990s, with several of his businesses going bankrupt. One of the best-known was McCrory Corp., a chain of five-and-dime stores that was founded in 1882 and went bust in 1992 under Riklis. He was accused of gutting the firm and shifting away its wealth before terminating it.
Riklis was 49 when he met 19-year-old Zadora in 1973, sneaking backstage to meet her after a show in a touring production of the musical Applause. The May-December marriage was a hot topic in the tabloids. They married in 1977 and divorced in 1993.
In 2010, Riklis married Israeli dancer and socialite Tali Sinai, an actress from the first season of Meusharot, the Israeli version of The Real Housewives. Riklis appeared with her on the show.
Survivors include Sinai; two children from his first marriage, Marcia and Ira; and two children from his marriage to Zadora, Kady and Kristofer. Another daughter, Mona Ackerman, died in 2012.