Kirk Kerkorian, Las Vegas Billionaire and Founder of MGM Grand, Dies at 98

98 year old Kirk Kerkorian, a Las Vegas legend, hardline businessman and 2x founder of the legendary MGM Grand hotel and casino, has died. The news was delivered by his investment firm, Tracinda Corp., who solemnly announced the Casino magnate and 2x MGM Grand founder Kirk Kerkorian Dies at 98 on Monday night, June 15, 2015, in his Beverly Hills home.

Kirk Kerkorian was best known for his on-again, off-again ownership of MGM, which resulted in the establishment of the world famous MGM Grand, not once, but twice. He actually sold and repurchased the MGM company three times during his lifetime.

Kirk Kerkorian – Rise of a Casino Mogul

A shrewd businessman in his adult years, Kerkorian worked incredibly hard to build his legacy. He was born June 6, 1917 in Fresno, California to American immigrants. With four children, his father tried to make ends meet by selling fruit, but his business skills were far inferior to that of what his son would later develop. Thus Kirk spent most of his years growing up in poverty.

MGM Grand founder Kirk Kerkorian Las Vegas LegacyIn 1969, after establishing his place as a budding casino magnate in Las Vegas, Kerkorian told Fortune Magazine, “We moved at least 20 times when I was a kid.” He explained, “We often could not pay our rent and got booted out.”

Not surprising under the circumstances, Kerkorian dropped out of school during the 8th grade to pursue employment. By 19, he had secured a successful boxing career, finishing with 29 of 33 bouts won. Having made enough money as a pugilist to pay for flight lessons, he quit boxing in 1939 to become a private pilot. It was a decision that would end up having an enormous impact on his life, although he wouldn’t realize it for years to come.

For the next few years, Kirk Kerkorian flew bombers in World War II, where he got the idea to purchase surplus military planes, fix them up and resell them for a substantial profit. The proceeds from that endeavor led to his purchase of a private charter company in Los Angeles in 1947, where he found himself shuttling big-wig, Hollywood celebrities to and from Las Vegas.

Rubbing elbows with high society eventually landed the self-made businessman in seats at the casino tables, where he became known as a high roller. He also met his wife, Jean Maree Hardy, in Las Vegas. They were married in 1954 and had two daughters, Tracy and Linda.

In 1968, Kerkorian broke ground on his first Las Vegas casino property. The International Hotel was completed in 1969, and was the largest casino resort in the world at that time (later sold to Hilton Corporation and rebranded Las Vegas Hilton; closed 2012). Also in 1969, in a daring business venture, he beat out the Bronfman family in a takeover of the immense MGM company.

Kerkorian had envisioned a much grander hotel—his dream hotel—and used the proceeds from International Hotel to bring it to life. Built in 1973, Kerkorian’s MGM Grand Hotel was now the largest in the world, attracting millions of patrons from around the world with its popular, Wizard of Oz theme.

He later sold the hotel to Bally Entertainment (then renamed Bally’s) in 1985. But his dream continued when Kerkorian established the new MGM Grand in 1993—yet again built as the largest casino hotel in the world.

His company, MGM Resorts International, owns many of today’s most popular casinos in Las Vegas, including The Bellagio, Circus Circus, CityCenter, Excalibur, The Luxor, Mandalay By, MGM Grand and The Mirage.