Who was Kirk Kerkorian?
Kirk Kerkorian was an Armenian-American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. Known as one of the significant figures who shaped Las Vegas, he is also hailed as the ‘father of the mega resort’ along with architect Martin Stern Jr. Among his other achievements, he had built the world’s largest hotel in Las Vegas three times. Born in Fresno, California, Kerkorian was a boxer in his early days. During the World War II, instead of joining the infantry, he learned to fly and served in the Royal Air Force command. Later, he bought a single engine Cessna plane and offered rides to gamblers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. After a few years, he bought 82 acres in Las Vegas and along with architect Martin Stern, he built the International Hotel, which at the time, was the largest hotel in the world. His business grew over the next few years, and he became a leading entrepreneur of the country. He was also a renowned philanthropist. Through his Lincy Foundation, he provided over $1 billion for charity in Armenia. He helped rebuild northern Armenia after the 1988 earthquake. In 2004, he was bestowed with the title of National Hero of Armenia, their highest state award.
Childhood & Early Life
Kerkor Kerkorian was born on 6th June 1917 in Fresno, California, in the US. He belonged to an immigrant family of Armenian origin. He had an older brother named Nishon Kerkorian and a younger sister whose name was Rose Kerkorian. His first language was Armenian and he learnt English much later.
His family moved to Los Angeles after the Depression of 1920-1921. As a young teenager he dropped out of school and trained himself in boxing. He soon became a skilled amateur boxer who fought under the name ‘Rifle Right Kerkorian’ and eventually won the Pacific amateur welterweight championship.
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During the Second World War, Kirk Kerkorian didn’t wish to enter the military. Instead, he decided to spend the World War II as a civilian employee for Britain’s Royal Air Force. He flew Mosquito bombers from Canada to Scotland. Though this was highly profitable, it was also very risky. Kerkorian used to earn $1000 per flight.
Later in 1945, he bought a single engine Cessna plane for $5000, and started giving flying lessons alongside operating an occasional charter service. He primarily flew gamblers between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Later he also purchased a small charter airline named Los Angeles Air Service. It was renamed to Trans International Airlines. Soon, he also became the first entrepreneur to offer charter jet services.
Kerkorian continued to operate the airline until 1968 when he finally decided to sell it to the Transamerica Corporation for $104 million. He also bought 82 acres of land in Paradise Road. Along with architect Martin Stern, he built the International Hotel, which was the largest hotel in the world at the time.
He also bought the Flamingo Hotel, though both the hotels were sold to the Hilton Hotels later. He purchased the Metro Goldwyn Mayer movie studio as well.
Along with Martin Stern Jr., he opened the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in 1973, which was the largest hotel in the world at the time. It was even larger than the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, it caught a fire in 1980, which resulted in more than 60 deaths. It is considered as one of the worst disasters in Las Vegas history. Six years later, Kerkorian sold his MGM Grand Hotels in Las Vegas for $594 million.
Kirk Kerkorian became involved with the Chrysler Corporation in 1990. He helped increase the value of the company’s stock through a variety of maneuvers. Though he attempted a hostile takeover of the company in 1994, along with former chairman Lee Iacocca, he was unsuccessful. However, he reaped billions in profits from several stock buybacks from the company.
In 2005, he acquired a 9.9 percent stake in General Motors. In 2008, he started buying Ford Motor Company stock and acquired a 6% stake, for which he had to spend nearly a billion. The same year, he was named the 41st richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $16 billion.
Kirk Kerkorian is best remembered for building the world’s largest hotel in Las Vegas three times. In 1969, the International Hotel—with 2,956 hotel rooms including 305 suites—was opened. He proceeded to build even larger hotels twice in the ensuing years: the MGM Grand Hotel (1973) and the MGM Grand (1993).
Awards & Achievements
In 1998, Kirk Kerkorian was declared an honorary citizen of Armenia. He also received the title of ‘National Hero of Armenia’ in 2004.
He was named the 10th largest donor in the US by Time Magazine, in 2000.
Kirk Kerkorian was married three times. His first marriage was to Hilda Schmidt from 1942 to 1952. His next wife was Jean Maree Hardy, to whom he was married from 1954 to 1984. He had two daughters through his marriage, named Tracy and Linda. His third marriage was with professional tennis player Lisa Bonder. However, this marriage was quite short-lived.
Besides his business ventures, Kerkorian also founded the Lincy Foundation, which was named after his daughters Linda and Tracy. It has donated more than one billion dollars to various charities. Kerkorian, however, never allowed any donation to be named in his honor. The organization was dissolved in 2011.
He lived a long life and died of natural causes on June 15, 2015, aged 98.