LAS VEGAS – Kirk Kerkorian, a self-made billionaire and famously cunning dealmaker who bought and sold some of the largest companies in the airline, hospitality and entertainment industries, died Monday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 98.
Over the years, his holdings included majority stakes in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and MGM Grand, a publicly traded company that at one time owned nearly half the slot machines, table games and hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip. Kerkorian, whose fortune Forbes magazine estimated this month at $4 billion, liked to call himself "a small-town boy who got lucky."
He built a modest fortune by buying and selling surplus aircraft after World War II. He then started a charter plane service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
In the 1960s, he invested $900,000 in 40 acres on the Strip, and he reaped $5 million six years later when Caesars Palace was built.
Kerkorian also was credited with fueling the phenomenon of the Las Vegas mega-resort through his construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s of properties such as the International Hotel and the MGM Grand.
"Wages are going higher, and hours are getting shorter," he said at the time. "People have got to have a place to spend it."
In 1993, he christened the 5,000-room MGM Grand Hotel and Theme Park, a Vegas behemoth that was served by its own power plant.
Kerkorian had a reputation for extreme secrecy in his business dealings and personal life. He expressed discomfort about settings where his lack of a formal education could expose him to ridicule. "I wish I could talk like Donald Trump or Steve Wynn," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2005.