Kirk Kerkorian, the eighth-grade dropout who bootstrapped his way to become a billionaire by buying and selling stakes in airlines, auto companies, Nevada casinos and Hollywood studios, has died. He was 98.
Mr. Kerkorian died on Monday in Los Angeles, Clark Dumont, a spokesman for MGM Resorts International, said in a telephone interview. No cause was given.
Mr. Kerkorian found it hard to quit. As an octogenarian, he controlled more than half of the Las Vegas strip's hotel rooms after his casino company, MGM Grand Inc., acquired rival Steve Wynn's Mirage Resorts Inc. for $6.4 billion in 2000 and the Mandalay Resort Group for $4.8 billion four years later. He was the controlling shareholder of the company, now known as MGM Resorts International, until May 2009, when he reduced his stake in the business to 37% from 54%.
He bought almost 10% of General Motors Corp.'s depressed stock in 2005, when he was 88. Impatient with GM management, Kerkorian pressed for changes and was rebuffed. He sold his stake in late 2006.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Kerkorian played a key role in a fight to own Chrysler Corp. But in 2000, he sued DaimlerChrysler, saying he'd been duped. As Chrysler's largest shareholder, with a stake of almost 14%, he had initially supported the carmaker's 1998 merger with Germany's Daimler-Benz AG. Later he said he'd been fooled by representations that the deal was “a merger of equals.” Seeking as much as $3 billion in damages, he lost a federal trial verdict in 2005. His appeal of the ruling was unsuccessful.
His deals generated a net worth of $3.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index.
His fortune took a hit during the financial crisis of 2008. Among his losses: about $600 million from unwinding a stake in Ford Motor Co. that had topped 140 million shares, or about 6% of the company. Mr. Kerkorian rarely took a title other than president and sole shareholder of Tracinda Corp., the company he formed to make investments.