Kirk Kerkorian is a native Californian born in Fresno to an immigrant Armenian couple in 1917. He grew up in Los Angeles, and dropped out of school in the eighth grade due to a little disciplinary problem. Kerkorian took auto mechanics at a trade school. In 1934, he took a $30 a month job with the Civilian Conservation Corps building camp trails.
Some of Kerkorian's jobs included hustling newspapers, and buying and selling used cars.
Kerkorian took up boxing, picking up his first $4 prize for a knockout in a Bakersfield arena. All in all, he won 29 of his 33 fights, many by knockouts. He was called Rifle Right Kerkorian.
In 1939, he scrounged up enough money for his first plane ride, and took on other odd jobs to begin taking flying lessons. He became a good pilot, got his instrument rating, and became an instructor lieutenant for the future Army Air Corps pilots. Kerkorian then became a flight commander at a little airport in Blythe, CA. He turned down a captain's commission in the military, taking instead a job ferrying planes across the Atlantic for the Royal Air Force - with a captain's rank in the RAF Transport Command. For $1,000 a month, he delivered 33 planes, some to such distant spots as India and Africa's Gold Coast.
After World War II, the United States government began offering surplus aircraft for rock bottom prices and especially in Hawaii, the planes were dirt cheap. Kerkorian scraped together every dollar he could and made purchases in Hawaii, ferrying the planes to the mainland himself. He first picked up a C-47 and flew it to California with only enough fuel remaining in its tanks to taxi off the runway. It was sold to Hughes Aircraft, where Howard Hughes had it refitted as a luxury plane. Kerkorian bought a couple other planes, sold his flying school and his other planes, and bought bigger plans.
Rumor has that he was once flying a DC-3 and experienced engine trouble, threatening to go down midway across the Pacific. He landed safely in California and after touchdown it was said he coolly shrugged off the near ditching.
Some planes Kerkorian flew to Rio de Janiero for resale, 50-hour flights, solo. He bought a little company, Los Angeles Air Serve, in 1947. It included three planes and two desks. He flew passengers all over the West, leasing out some of the planes he wasn't using. He flew Hollywood celebrities to Las Vegas for quickie marriages and divorces for $100 a head.
One of Kerkorian's clients to fly people and celebrities to Las Vegas, and specifically the Strip in the late 1940s, was William Moore, one of the founders of the Last Frontier. Maybe it was during one of these flights that Kerkorian's dreams of the Strip started to form. Moore then contracted Kerkorian to fly high rollers and celebrities appearing at the Hotel Last Frontier to and from Vegas.
In either 1960 or 1961, Kerkorian purchased 34 acres of land on the northwest corner of the Strip and Flamingo Road for less than $1 million. In 1962, he sold the property to Jay Sarno for the building of Caesars Palace. The sale totalled $5 million.
His Los Angeles charter service became Trans International Airlines. He sold it to the Studebaker Corp. in 1962, then bought it back from the ailing company a year later for a healthy profit. He then sold it to Transamerica for $104 million - $34 million of that in cash, the rest in stock.
With that money he decided to join the resort game instead of just owning land. Kerkorian purchased the failing Flamingo in 1967, for $13 million, demolished the legendary champagne tower, added a 300 seat theatre, expanded the casino, and housed it behind a new two-story porte cochere.
In 1968, he purchased the ill-fated Bonanza Hotel & Casino property which was located across the street from The Dunes but sold it a short while later to Howard Levin.
In the late 60s/early 70s, Kerkorian acquired the controlling interests in both Western Airlines and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and was being titled as a self-made millionaire, shrewd businessman, and not someone that can be conned being raised on the streets.
He decided to build what some call his mini-dream. He purchased 64.5 acres of land on Paradise Road, next to the Las Vegas Convention Center to build the largest resort in the world at that time - the $60 million, 30 story, 1,519 room International which opened on July 5, 1969. Kerkorian reportedly paid $5 million to Boston Celtics owner Marvin Kratter for the land.
The newspapers were calling Kerkorian "The Avis of Las Vegas" for Howard Hughes had picked up ownership of six hotels by then. Hughes' fortune was overwhelming, Kerkorian was worth a mere $274 million.
The Landmark and International opened within days of each other. While the Landmark experienced problems, the International thrived. Credit was given to Kerkorian. Kerkorian could be seen at the International, talking with people, giving comps, and creating a loyalty among the patrons. He also had the stars showcased at the resort, "easy" to reach by their fans, which created more loyalty. At the Landmark, few saw Hughes. Even though Hughes had top names, they weren't accessible to their fans, and people would ultimately go over to the International to mingle with the stars and the owner. The patrons would ultimately spend their time, as well as their money, at the International.
Research shows that in 1970 he had the ultimate dream. A resort named after MGM Studios. He sold the Flamingo and the International to the Hilton Hotels Corporation, and re-purchased the Bonanza Hotel & Casino, and 43 acres of property surrounding it. On December 23, 1973, the MGM Grand Hotel opened. This was the flagship for other MGMs (some of which opened in Reno in 1978, and Atlantic City in 1980).
On November 21, 1980, Kerkorian's dream went up in smoke when the MGM caught on fire and 85 people perished. He rebuilt the MGM Grand but the resort would always be associated with sadness and death. He sold it in 1985 to Bally Entertainment Corporation for $550 million.
In 1981, Kerkorian purchased United Artists, merging it with MGM to create MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
In 1983, Kerkorian made Forbes 400 with Forbes:
"Kerkorian made his fortune in "trading, investment." There was a Sunfoto not too many years back of Kirk Kerkorian and family holding a $5 million check he got for a little hunk of land on the Strip that 20 years before sold for $2.50 an acre. Today it's part of Caesars Palace. Or think of Kirk flying over Las Vegas in his jet in one direction, Marvin Kratter flying over in the other direction, talking to each other on the radio about a hunk of land behind the Sahara Hotel Kirk bought. He built the International Hotel there. Today's it's the Las Vegas Hilton.
Kerkorian 'bought, sold, $100 junk cars in the 1930s,' Forbes says, '$10,000-$100,000 DC3s after WWII, built airline to support his trading, sold to Transamerica 1968 for $104 million, broke even buying, selling, Western Airlines in 1970s.' Big profit in Columbia Pictures battle in 1981. Has half interest in MGM/UA Entertainment, MGM Grand Hotels. Celebrated high roller. After deducting leverage, stock worth at least $400 million." - Las Vegas Sun, October 16, 1983
In 1985, Kerkorian sold MGM Studios movie rights to Ted Turner.
Kerkorian purchased the Desert Inn in 1987, making it the MGM Desert Inn, and in 1988 he purchased the Sands naming it the MGM Sands.
Also during this year he created MGM Grand Air which was a luxury charter airline operation that catered to entertainers, sports franchises, and groups world-wide.
In 1989, Kerkorian sold the Sands to Sheldon Adelson and the Interface Group. During this year he also bought the Marina Hotel and Casino renaming that the MGM Marina.
As it is quite evident from the name changes, his precious MGM Grand was never far from his mind. Some dreams never die and the megaresort with the lion logo needed to become a reality once again. On November 30, 1990, the Marina was closed and on October 7, 1991, ground breaking occurred for his ultimate dream.
On December 18, 1993, the $1 billion, 5,005 room dream became a reality and the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino was, and is, the largest hotel in the United States. During this year ITT-Sheraton purchased the Desert Inn from Kerkorian's Tracinda Corporation for $160 million.
In 1996, Kerkorian caused trouble with the Chrysler company regarding stock options that he had.
In January of 1997, MGM Grand Hotels and Prima Dona Resorts opened the New York New York Hotel Casino across the street from the MGM Grand. The property was owned by MGM Grand and the Prima Dona was the designer and operator. In 1999, MGM Grand bought the Prima Dona Resorts making New York New York the sole property of MGM Grand Hotels.
On February 24, 2000, Kirk Kerkorian and MGM Grand Inc., conducted a $5.4 billion takeover offer to purchase Mirage Resorts, Inc. Kerkorian offered $17 per share for Mirage Resorts, either all in cash or a combination of $7 per share in cash and $10 worth of MGM stock, a bid worth about $3.28 billion. MGM would also assume Mirage Resort's $2.1 billion debt.
Just four hours after the announcement Mirage shareholders filed a class action lawsuit against Mirage, Chief Executive Steve Wynn, and six board members in the Clark County District Court to obtain the highest possible price for their stock. The plaintiffs consisted of Crandon Capital Partners, Richard Ardezzone, Janis Zvokel, Naline Yassin and J.M.M. Management.
The shareholders were worried that Mirage Resorts may not give the offer and others a fair hearing because the board members may lose their management grip should the company be sold. If Mirage Resorts was sold, the present management maybe out of a job. It was reported that MGM's offer may just be a low bid Kerkorian, and the plaintiffs are attempting to obtain the highest price.
It was alleged that Mirage Resorts board members breached their fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value by wrongfully refusing to properly consider a bona fide offer, one that represented a substantial premium over the market price for the company from MGM Grand.
Mirage did not reject MGM's offer and the proposal was considered by the board at a future meeting.
If Kerkorian obtained Mirage Resorts, MGM Grand would create a huge share of the high-end market. The "financial might" of MGM-Mirage, as MGM Grand President Jim Murren called it, would make it extremely difficult for competitors to catch up.
On February 25, 2000, Wall Street analysts and Las Vegas casino observers were guessing Mirage Chairman Steve Wynn's next move. Though Wynn may begin negotiating a higher price with MGM Grand, Wall Street was buzzing with talk of new bids for the Las Vegas company including Harrah's Entertainment, (Harrah's and Rio), or Park Place Entertainment, (Flamingo Las Vegas, Bally's, Las Vegas Hilton, and Caesars Palace).
Wynn, being a Vegas long-timer and a business gambler, had some on Wall Street speculating he would take the risky move of taking Mirage Resorts private in a leveraged buyout, and that Carl Icahn, owner of the Stratosphere hotel-casino, might have been willing to help him.
Harrah's was the most widely discussed competitor given the company's lack of a large presence on the Strip, and its need for a high-end portfolio. Another significant factor was Wynn's friendship with Harrah's Chief Executive Phil Satre, raising the possibility if Wynn sought a white knight, he would approach Harrah's. Harrah's was interested in acquiring additional Las Vegas Strip capacity and had been considering an expansion at the Rio.
Park Place was seen as less of a possibility, since it was trying to digest its $3 billion purchase of Caesars World Inc. Another problem was the rivalry between Wynn and Park Place Chief Executive Arthur Goldberg. Still, analysts and observers insisted Park Place cannot be totally dismissed.
Some speculated Icahn would be willing to be Wynn's partner. Icahn was licensed, so he and Steve Wynn could form an alliance. There was speculation that Icahn was using the Stratosphere to get his foot on the Strip so he could start dealing. Others downplayed the Icahn possibility, saying it wasn't in keeping with Icahn's reputation as a "bottom-fisher." Icahn was adding to his casino portfolio, but he's bought most out of bankruptcy, and Mirage was not a distressed corporation.
Some argued that Wynn would simply tell the world that Mirage Resorts was not for sale, as he did when Kerkorian took a stake in Wynn's company in 1999. Analyst, Joe Coccimiglio of Prudential Securities, had predicted that's probably what would happen, saying the odds of a buyout by MGM Grand are less than 25%.
Another problem was with the Strip's other major players who simply couldn't afford to let MGM Grand swallow Mirage Resorts. This would've forced the Strip's other major companies to enter the fray, should MGM Grand and Mirage Resorts begin dealing.
On March 6, 2000, it was announced that Mirage Resorts has been sold to Kirk Kerkorian/MGM Grand for $4.4 billion in cash. The assets ranged from Mirage's $1.60 billion Bellagio resort to the MGM Grand, the national's largest hotel. MGM also assumed $2 billion in Mirage debt. MGM executives agreed to the current deal after the stock market closed on March 3, 2000, and intensive negotiations continued through the weekend on details. The transaction had to be approved by Mirage stockholders and was expected to close by the end of the year.
Steve Wynn, visionary of the Mirage, owned 23 million shares of Mirage stock or 12% of the company. The deal brought him $483 million.
It was expected the new company will retain the MGM name. The combined companies included 14 properties. Mirage owned the Bellagio, Boardwalk, Mirage, Treasure Island and Golden Nugget resorts in Las Vegas; the Beau Rivage in Biloxi in Mississippi, and the Golden Nugget in Laughlin, Nevada. The company also owned half interest in the Monte Carlo hotel-casino on the Strip. In June of 2000, the resort was legally changed to MGM Mirage.
Kerkorian is known as a quiet man. On opening day of the new MGM Grand, Kerkorian could be seen walking through the resort. He was asked if a photographer could follow him around as he surveyed his dream. "I'd prefer you didn't," he said softly, graciously.
Kerkorian has the clout to swing around Vegas, but in more ways than one, he has often been content to stand in line waiting his turn - just like regular people. After selling the Sands for about $110 million, Kerkorian stopped by to pose for pictures with the new owners. He then finished shaking hands and walked outside to stand in line for a taxi behind about a dozen other people.
Over the years, people have reported meeting Kerkorian at his resorts, sometimes he would be giving out comps, or other times just chatting with people. By the quiet, gracious manner he presented, most thought he was a casino manager, or a publicist. It wasn't until others later pointed out the fact, that these people just shared a quick chat with, or received a comp from one of the Strip's original visionaries.
At the age of 81, Kerkorian became a father to Kira Kerkorian. Kerkorian and Lisa Bonder wed a year and a half after Kira was born because Lisa wanted to give her child legitimacy. Kerkorian consented on the condition that Lisa divorce him after a month and waive spousal support.
In January of 2002, Lisa filed a petition in the Los Angeles Superior Court wanted to up child support from $50,000 a month to $320,000. Lisa is also asking for an extra $436 a month for Kira's pet rabbit's upkeep. Kerkorian countersued for an unspecified amount, saying Lisa violated confidentiality agreements regarding his finances. Lisa stated that 3 year old Kira's current stipend does not adequately allow the child to maintain a station of life befitting the daughter of Kirk Kerkorian.
Lisa's petition states that every month Kira donates $7,000 to charity, and spends $4,300 dining in, $5,900 dining out, and $144,000 on travel.
Also in January 2002, announced that he was putting up MGM Studios up for sale (this is a completely different entity from MGM Mirage Resorts).
In the March, 2002 edition of Worth magazine, Kerkorian was named the richest man in Las Vegas stating:
"In Las Vegas ... a high-roller is known as a whale. By this definition, Kirk Kerkorian is Moby Dick. Kerkorian keeps a low civic profile in the flashy city he helped fashion. He makes donations -- modest by the standards of a man with an estimated $5 billion fortune -- through his Lincy Foundation and allows a charity to use his casinos' facilities every year, but he rarely steps out in public. When he does pop up in public, it's often at a prizefight or at the tables, where the city's ultimate gambler is known to pick up the dice and roll some craps."
In late May of 2002, Playboy Steven Bing filed a $1 billion-plus invasion of privacy and trespassing lawsuit against Kerkorian in a case growing out of Kerkorian's legal battle with ex-wife Lisa Bonder-Kerkorian.
The lawsuit was in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming Kerkorian was involved in a plan to dig through Bing's trash for dental floss in an effort to prove, through DNA analysis, that Bing fathered Kira Kerkorian. His ex-wife claimed in court papers that Kerkorian "wanted the world to think he was a fertile octogenarian.''
Bing is also fighting a paternity claim by model-actress Elizabeth Hurley.
In September of 2002, Forbes named Kirk Kerkorian and number 32 on its wealthiest people list with $4.5 billion of net worth.
Also in September, 2002, Kerkorian's ex-wife was awarded an additional $316 a month in child support. She was asking for a $270,000-a-month increase. Kerkorian, now 84 years old, had already agreed to pay $50,000 a month to support 4-year-old Kira. Judge Lee Edmon called the estimates "incredible" and a "disguised form of spousal support." The 37-year-old ex-wife said she would appeal. She said the judge "severely underestimated" the cost it takes to maintain her daughter in a lifestyle Kerkorian created for her.
Dennis Wasser, a lawyer representing Kerkorian, said he was pleased "that the judge, instead of accepting the fantasy world presented by Lisa Kerkorian, followed the law and the facts and ruled on the basis of common sense." Edmon said Kira "is entitled to live a luxurious lifestyle" but is not entitled to private jet travel. Other items the judge threw out as "grossly exceeding the reasonable needs of the child" included $300,000 for six parties per year and $6,000 per month for house flowers.
The judge did award Bonder Kerkorian $2,400 per month for Kira's equestrian activities and $1,400 per month for French lessons, ballet lessons and other extracurricular activities.
As stated above, although her attorneys originally claimed Kerkorian was Kira's natural father, Bonder Kerkorian recently admitted she faked the DNA paternity test by using saliva she obtained from Kerkorian's adult daughter. Kerkorian has said he is willing to support the child even though he is not the biological father.
Kirk Kerkorian died on June 15, 2015 at the age of 98.