According to Kirk Kerkorian’s Testament, he will be Given Last Farewell in Los Angeles


According to the last will and testament of the billionaire of Armenian origin Kirk Kerkorian, the funeral will take place in Los Angeles, in the narrow environment of his family and close relatives. The Publisher and Editor of California Courier Harut Sassounian told Armenpress about it. “The funeral will be close, not public, attended by the family members and the close relatives. Kirk Kerkorian did not like to be in public places. You will not see buildings and institutions named after him. He did everything separately. His wish was that his funeral will not be crowded”, ­ said Sassounian.

At the age of 98 Armenian American businessman, billionaire and benefactor Kirk Kerkorian died. Kerkorian’s death was confirmed Tuesday by Anthony Mandekic, the CEO of Kerkorian’s company, Tracinda Corp. He said Kerkorian died Monday evening at his home in Beverly Hills of age­related causes.

Kerkor Kerkorian — he Americanized his name to Kirk as a boy — was born in Fresno, Calif., on June 6, 1917, one of four children of Armenian immigrants. His mother, Lily, was a homemaker; his father, Ahron, was a fruit merchant whose get­rich­quick schemes often left his family struggling to stay afloat.

“We moved at least 20 times when I was a kid,” Mr. Kerkorian told Fortune magazine in 1969. “We often could not pay our rent and would get booted out.”

Young Kirk got no further than the eighth grade, leaving school to take odd jobs. He became a promising lightweight boxer, winning 29 of 33 amateur bouts, but quit the ring in 1939 to take flying lessons. He soon became a private pilot and later an instructor.

In World War II, Mr. Kerkorian ferried bomber planes across the Atlantic and as far as India for the British Royal Air Force. After the war he bought surplus military transport planes, refurbished them and sold them around the world, using the profits to buy a small air charter operation, based in Los Angeles, in 1947.

Mr. Kerkorian often flew Hollywood entertainers to Las Vegas, which was becoming a gambling capital, and joined them at the blackjack and dice tables, where he became renowned as a high roller. It was in Las Vegas where he met Jean Maree Hardy, a dancer and choreographer. They married in 1954 and had two daughters. That marriage ended in divorce after almost 30 years. (His first marriage, to Hilda Schmidt, had also ended in divorce, in 1951.)

His daughters, Tracy Kerkorian and Linda Kemper, as well as three grandchildren survive him, a family spokesman said.

Mr. Kerkorian bought property in Las Vegas, just off the Strip, in 1962. That year he merged his charter company, Trans International Airlines, with the Studebaker Corporation, retaining operating control.

Using Studebaker revenue, he expanded the airline’s fleet and destinations. He then repurchased the airline in 1964 and left Studebaker. Over the next three years he sold the airline in two separate transactions, making more than $100 million in overall profits and funneling the proceeds into the three business arenas — airlines, gambling resorts and film studios — that would sustain him as an investor for the rest of his life. By the end of 1969, Mr. Kerkorian had beaten out the Bronfman family, the Canadian liquor magnates, for control of MGM and amassed almost 40 percent of its shares. Meanwhile, he began to develop his Las Vegas acreage, breaking ground in 1968 for what he promised would be the largest hotel and casino in the world. The project infuriated Hughes, the reclusive airline and movie magnate, who had recently moved to Las Vegas intending to dominate the casino and resort business. Hughes announced a huge expansion of his own Sands Hotel, aimed at convincing creditors that Mr. Kerkorian’s project, the International Hotel, would not be viable in what looked like an overbuilt market. In the end, Mr. Kerkorian found other creditors and completed his hotel on schedule in 1969.

Soon Mr. Kerkorian was facing bigger threats. The 1969­70 recessions caught him badly overextended. The Securities and Exchange Commission prevented his holding company, the International Leisure Corporation, from making a secondary offering of stock, which would have helped him repay his loans, because the Flamingo Hotel, an International Leisure property, had once been owned by racketeers. Mr. Kerkorian was sinking fast. His International Leisure stock was worth $180 million at the beginning of 1970, but a year later he was forced to sell half his holdings in the company for $16.5 million.

“Sometimes you lose, but that’s the nature of the game,” he said in a Time magazine article in 1970. “There’s always another game and another chance to win.”

He found one when he sought help in shoring up his finances from MGM, in which he had accumulated a controlling share. At his prodding, the MGM board announced that it would build the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, surpassing the International Hotel as the world’s largest gambling and resort hotel.

The original MGM Grand opened in 1973 with more than 2,000 rooms. A year later, Mr. Kerkorian increased his holdings in MGM to just over 50 percent.

With a strong flow of revenue from his Las Vegas operations, Mr. Kerkorian sought to expand his Hollywood investments. In 1978 he bought 25.5 percent of Columbia Pictures, which he later sold. In 1981, he lost a bid to buy 20th Century Fox but succeeded in acquiring United Artists. He then split MGM into two publicly owned entities: MGM/UA Entertainment, which included film and television production and a large library of films, and MGM Grand Hotels, which owned and managed hotels, casinos and luxury cruise ships. By 1986, Mr. Kerkorian had agreed to sell MGM/UA, which was struggling, to Mr. Turner, the cable television magnate, for $1.5 billion. Hollywood rivals and Wall Street analysts considered it a good deal for Mr. Kerkorian. It became a terrific one a year later, when Mr. Turner, crushed by debt, sold all but MGM’s film library back to Mr. Kerkorian for only $300 million. In effect, Mr. Kerkorian had sold the MGM library for $1.2 billion. Mr. Kerkorian did not hold on to MGM/UA for long. In 1990 he sold it to the Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti and his holding company, Pathe Communications, for $1.3 billion.

A year later Mr. Parretti was ousted by his main creditor, the French bank Crédit Lyonnais, which then sued Mr. Kerkorian, accusing him of committing fraud by knowingly selling worthless assets. The case was settled out of court in 1995 when Mr. Kerkorian agreed to pay an undisclosed amount.

By then Mr. Kerkorian was focused on the biggest gamble of his career: an effort to take over the Chrysler Corporation. In 1995, with the support of its former chairman, Lee A. Iacocca, he proposed to buy Chrysler for $22.8 billion and take it private. Chrysler’s board rejected the offer.

But he and the board struck a deal in 1996 when he agreed to limit his Chrysler holdings to no more than 13.8 percent and the company agreed to rid itself of its nonautomotive businesses. In 1998, Daimler­Benz, the maker of Mercedes­Benz automobiles, acquired Chrysler in a $36 billion merger. The deal was a windfall for Mr. Kerkorian, raising the value of his Chrysler holdings to nearly $5 billion, more than triple the original investment he made in 1990.

Even as he battled Chrysler, Mr. Kerkorian was moving back into the film business. In 1996, after settling his legal disputes with Crédit Lyonnais, he bought back MGM/UA for $1.3 billion. It was Mr. Kerkorian’s third takeover of MGM, and he seemed determined to restore thecompany’s vitality. But he sold it in 2004 to a consortium led by Sony.

He held on to his interest in Las Vegas gambling resorts, however. After the MGM Grand was badly damaged in a fire in 1980, leaving more than 80 people dead, he rebuilt it and, in 1986, sold it to the Bally Manufacturing Corporation, which renamed it the Bally’s Grand.

Then, in 1993, he unveiled a new MGM Grand, built at a cost of more than $1 billion. Again claiming to be the largest hotel and casino in the world, it had 5,005 rooms, 170,000 square feet of casinos, a 15,000­seat arena, a 33­acre theme park and a giant gold lion serving as its entrance.

“He doesn’t do it for the money,” Mr. Iacocca, then an MGM Grand board member, said about Mr. Kerkorian in The Los Angeles Times in 1993. “He does it because he gets bug­eyed like a little kid when he goes through the place.”

In 1999, Mr. Kerkorian married Lisa Bonder, a former tennis pro. The marriage lasted only one month, and in 2002 she asked a Los Angeles Superior Court for the largest child­support award in California history, $320,000 a month. A court later awarded her a much smaller amount after it emerged that the child was not Mr. Kerkorian’s.

By the time the marriage ended, Mr. Kerkorian was worth about $7 billion, according to Forbes magazine. But his appetite for acquisitions was as great as ever.

In 2000, his MGM Grand made an unsolicited offer to acquire Mirage Resorts, the company created by Mr. Wynn to help turn Las Vegas into a major family destination. Within two weeks, Mirage Resorts agreed to a $4.4 billion cash deal. The purchase left Mr. Kerkorian in control of five of the most glittering casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, as well as casinos in Australia and elsewhere in the United States.

As he neared 88 in 2005, Mr. Kerkorian made yet another splash on Wall Street by buying a 9.9 percent stake in General Motors. Though financially troubled, G.M. remained the world’s largest automaker, and Mr. Kerkorian was betting that he could force it to pursue a more successful strategy. But his gamble failed when G.M.’s management refused to accept his proposal to sell off money­losing car brands and form an alliance with the rival automakers Nissan and Renault. Mr. Kerkorian sold his G.M. investment in 2006.

He was not entirely finished with the automobile business. In 2008 he acquired a 6.5 percent stake in the Ford Motor Company, only to sell it within a few months after Ford’s stock plummeted. By that time his casino business had sustained heavy losses as well. But Mr. Kerkorian remained undeterred.

“Kirk has seen this before,” his friend Alex Yemenidjian, a former MGM chief executive, told The Times in 2009.“To him, this is just a bump on the road.”

Through the highs and lows, Mr. Kerkorian, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes at $4.2 billion, gave away more than $1 billion through a foundation he named for his daughters, including $200 million to U.C.L.A. in 2011. Patricia Glaser, a lawyer for Mr. Kerkorian, said he “gave almost his entire estate to charity.”

Mr. Kerkorian offered his own assessment of the fires that motivated him. “When you’re a self­made man, you start very early in life,” he told The Las Vegas Review­Journal in 1999. “In my case it was at 9 years old when I started bringing income into the family. You get a drive that’s a little different, maybe a little stronger, than somebody who inherited.”


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