The life of ‘a gam­bler at heart’

Kirk Kerko­rian roiled en­ter­tain­ment, auto and casino in­dus­tries with his deals.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By James F. Peltz

Bil­lion­aire Kirk Kerko­rian roiled the auto, casino and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­tries with his deals.

Kirk Kerko­rian, who died Mon­day at 98, wasn’t just a fab­u­lously rich cor­po­rate in­vestor, he was an un­com­mon in­di­vid­ual: in­tensely pri­vate, a bil­lion­aire with mid­dle­class touches, a self-de­scribed “gam­bler at heart.”

He roiled the en­ter­tain­ment, auto and casino in­dus­tries with his deals, of­ten with­out a public ut­ter­ance. From his unas­sum­ing Bev­erly Hills of­fice, he trav­eled the globe in lux­ury but drove mid­dle-class cars around town. And Kerko­rian bris­tled at the idea of hav­ing a build­ing named af­ter him.

Here are some no­table chap­ters in Kerko­rian’s life: The odd cou­ple

When the very pri­vate Kerko­rian made his au­da­cious takeover bid for Chrys- ler Corp. in 1995, he teamed with a po­lar-op­po­site per­son­al­ity: Chrysler Chair­man Lee Ia­cocca.

Ia­cocca had be­come one of Amer­ica’s house­hold names by star­ring in the au­tomaker’s tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials, in which he chal- lenged con­sumers with the catch­phrase “If you can find a bet­ter car, buy it.”

Chrysler re­buffed the takeover bid. But Kerko­rian, through his Tracinda Corp., ul­ti­mately made $2.7 bil­lion on his in­vest­ment.

Tracinda, in­ci­den­tally, was named af­ter Kerko­rian’s daugh­ters Tracy and Linda. Las Ve­gas king­pins

Like Ia­cocca, Mi­rage Re­sorts’ flam­boy­ant chair­man, Steve Wynn, be­came a fa­mil­iar face to Amer­i­cans by ap­pear­ing in his casino com­pany’s TV ads.

By 2000, Wynn also was ar­guably one of the two most im­por­tant fig­ures on the Las Ve­gas Strip ow­ing to his com­pany’s sta­ble of ho­tel-casi­nos, in­clud­ing the Mi­rage and the Bel­la­gio.

The other fig­ure was Kerko­rian, who con­trolled MGM Grand. And in 2000, Kerko­rian ef­fec­tively took out his Las Ve­gas ri­val with a $4.4bil­lion buy­out deal for Mi­rage Re­sorts.

Kerko­rian later would buy the Man­dalay Re­sort Group as well. To­day MGM Re­sorts In­ter­na­tional owns or has par­tial own­er­ship of about 40,000 rooms in Las Ve­gas.

MGM Re­sorts told fed­eral reg­u­la­tors Tues­day that Kerko­rian’s will re­quires Tracinda to sell its 16.2% stake in the ho­tel com­pany. That in­vest­ment is worth about $1.74 bil­lion. Kerko­rian’s drive

Observers of­ten were con­fused about Kerko­rian’s mo­tives when he made cer­tain in­vest­ments.

When he started buy­ing Chrysler’s stock in 1990, for in­stance, even some of his bankers were taken aback be­cause of the au­tomaker’s woes at the time.

But Ia­cocca once of­fered a con­cise ex­pla­na­tion for Kerko­rian’s style.

“Do­ing deals is what keeps him alive,” Ia­cocca told the Los An­ge­les Times in 2005. “He’s a born gam­bler with a sixth sense for sniff­ing out value.”

That same year Kerko­rian con­founded Detroit by amass­ing a 9.9% stake in Gen­eral Mo­tors Corp., an in­vest­ment that this time yielded a more mod­est profit of about $100 mil­lion. Kerko­rian’s ret­i­cence

The son of Ar­me­nian im­mi­grants who set­tled in the San Joaquin Val­ley, Kerko­rian en­joyed some trap­pings of his im­mense wealth, such as sail­ing on his yacht or fly­ing in his pri­vate Boe­ing 737 jet.

Yet he re­mained shy, re­served and usu­ally anony­mous in public. He would stroll through his Las Ve­gas casi­nos and not be rec­og­nized by the staff, which was the way he liked it.

A Times pro­file of Kerko­rian in 2005 sug­gested that one of the rea­sons he was so pub­lic­ity shy was that he was an eighth-grade dropout from a school for delin­quent boys in down­town Los An­ge­les, and he be­lieved that his con­ver­sa­tion re­flected it.

“I wish I could talk like Don­ald Trump or Steve Wynn,” Kerko­rian said in a rare in­ter­view with The Times. “Hell, I’d love it.” Stu­dio mogul

Kerko­rian’s dis­like of the public spotlight ex­tended to his role as a movie stu­dio mogul

When one of his Metro-Gold­wyn-Mayer Inc. films was re­leased, Kerko­rian paid to watch it at a Los An­ge­les theater where he pre­ferred to stand in line with the au­di­ence.

Kerko­rian bought and sold the MGM stu­dio three times; the fi­nal sale was to a group led by Sony Corp. for nearly $5 bil­lion in 2004, which net­ted Kerko­rian roughly $900 mil­lion.

His crit­ics con­tended that Kerko­rian dis­man­tled and nearly sank the leg­endary stu­dio in the 1980s, crit­i­cism that Kerko­rian stead­fastly de­nied.

Kevork Djansezian As­so­ci­ated Press

KIRK KERKO­RIAN, shown in 1992, en­joyed some trap­pings of his im­mense wealth, yet he re­mained shy, re­served and usu­ally anony­mous in public.

Ethan Miller Getty Im­ages

THE MGM GRAND Ho­tel & Casino in Las Ve­gas is owned by MGM Re­sorts In­ter­na­tional, in which Kirk Kerko­rian’s Tracinda Corp. holds a 16.2% stake.

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