Kirk Kerkorian: 1917-2015
By Chelsea Abate
On June 15, 2015, Las Vegas lost a beloved business mogul who did so much for the city’s development, he earned the name “Father of the Mega-Resort.” Kirk Kerkorian wasn’t what you’d expect from a pop culture-typical billionaire. He wasn’t flashy. He never yearned for the spotlight. Instead, the businessman who launched MGM Resorts—considered “brilliant” for his professional acumen—Kerkorian remained a quiet pioneer and a tremendous philanthropist who regularly donated millions to charities without care for recognition. And he will be forever remembered as the type of man who gave his all to his every goal.
From the time he was young, Kerkorian had a taste for adventure and self-sufficiency. After leaving reform school in the eighth grade, Kerkorian tried his hand at boxing. He quickly excelled and earned the nickname “Rifle Right Kerkorian” for his impressive punch. But boxing wasn’t his passion. At the height of his boxing career, Kerkorian was invited by a friend to go flying, and soon after it was apparent that he’d found a new interest. Kerkorian soon began saving money to pay for flying lessons and went on to become a commercial pilot flying under the RAF Ferry Command, a covert, experimental World War II operation that delivered American warplanes from Canada to Britain to fight against the Nazis.
His Heart For Las Vegas
Soon after the war ended Kerkorian used his skills and savings to buy a Cessna and work as a small-time pilot. He soon made his first trip to Las Vegas and it was love at first sight. By 1947, he purchased Trans International Airlines and used this small charter service to bring the wealthy and famous from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to help develop the growing casino industry. But not one to settle, Kerkorian had the blood of a true pioneer and wanted more than a charter service.
In 1962, Kerkorian started purchasing properties around the valley with the money he earned from his airline charter service. By 1968, Kerkorian was able to sell Trans International for a hefty $104 million and from that point on, his projects got bigger and better, such as opening the International Hotel (today’s Westgate Hotel). When it opened in 1969, it broke records for being the largest hotel in the world, with headliners Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand performing there.
Kerkorian continued to set records by opening two more hotels in the Las Vegas valley: the MGM Grand Hotel, which eventually became Bally’s, and the MGM Grand we see today. When opened, each hotel set records, respectively, for being the world’s largest hotel.
More Than Developer Extraordinaire
While using his innovative skills to advance in the hospitality market, Kerkorian was also known for his other interests, including an on-and-off relationship with the auto industry. Deals included the sale of ownership in numerous car companies such as GM, Chrysler, and Ford Motor Company. But he also had a deep
desire to help others. A man of Armenian heritage, Kerkorian applied his passion for philanthropy to the country of Armenia and in 1989, used his earnings to start the Lincy Foundation. Its purpose was to help rebuild communities devastated by the 1988 earthquake, and it raised more than $1 billion.
Kerkorian remained very private in his personal life and has been described by many as “humble” and “genuine.” He enjoyed playing tennis and had an attraction to fashion-favoring Italian designer Brioni who designed many custom pieces for him.
Kerkorian’s passion to excel in life drove him to not only set the standard for what the American dream can be, but the expanse of his philanthropy made him a role model for anyone able to follow in his footsteps. A bllion-dollar business mogul with a heart like no other, he will be greatly missed by those who knew him well, by those whose lives he touched, and for his many contributions to developing the Las Vegas Strip we know and love today.
Kerkorian is survived by his two daughters Tracy and Linda.