Kerkor “Kirk” Kerkorian was an Armenian-American businessman most famous for playing a prominent role of turning Las Vegas into the giant adult playground that it is today. He sadly died on June 15, 2015, at the age of 98 after a full and varied life.
Before his death, Kirk Kerkorian had a net worth of circa $4 billion.
Kirk was born on June 6, 1917, in Fresno, California. His parents were immigrants from Armenia, so he learned Armenian as his first language and couldn’t speak English until he was much older. Throughout his life, Kirk worked as a boxer, pilot, property investor, and casino operator. He was an immensely private person, but due to his high-profile business dealings, we know much about this life.
- Source of Money: Casino investments
- Real Name: Kerkor Kerkorian
- Place of Birth: Fresno, California, United States of America
- Date of Birth: June 6, 1917
- Date of Death: June 15, 2015
- Age at Death: 98
- 5 feet 11 inches
- 1.8 metres
- 180 centimetres
- Weight: Unknown
- Ethnicity: Armenian-American
- Nationality: American
Kirk Kerkorian was a Gemini and was born in The Year of the Snake
Early Life and Career
Kirk Kerkorian was born on June 6, 1917, to Armenian parents who had emigrated to the United States. They gave him the traditional Armenian first name of Kerkor, but he chose to go by the shortened and Anglicised version of Kirk.
After a short foray into boxing that saw him winning the Pacific Amateur Welterweight Championship, Kirk decided to learn to fly. This led him to develop a love of aviation that he retained for the rest of his life.
After getting his commercial pilot’s license, Kirk worked for the Royal Canadian Airforce during the 1940s, helping to deliver planes to Scotland. He was paid $1,000 for each successful journey, despite an apparent risk of one in four planes not making it across the Atlantic.
Kirk saved up $33,000 (circa $523,000 today) in less than three years by making these journeys. Using this money, he bought his own plane, started an airline, and began making regular trips to Las Vegas where he developed a love for casinos and casino games.
Las Vegas and MGM
Today, the MGM brand is synonymous with casinos. MGM Resorts International owns many of Las Vegas’s most famous integrated resorts, including the Bellagio, The Mirage, New York-New York, Excalibur, and Mandalay Bay.
It’s not only Vegas where MGM operates either. It owns the MGM Grand Detroit, the MGM Macau, and Yonkers Raceway & Empire City Casino in New York. One of its most famous non-Vegas properties is the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The Borgata brand has become a New Jersey institution and has received several renovations over the last two decades to keep it looking fresh and able to meet the ever-changing demands of customers. More recently, it moved its operations online. According to Borgata Casino reviews, it lets players in the state access its table games and slots from their smartphones, as well as place bets in its sportsbook and play in its poker room.
MGM wasn’t always the casino powerhouse it is today though, and it certainly wasn’t when Kirk Kerkorian bought a controlling stake in the film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1969. A few years later, he owned the first MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, followed by the MGM Grand Reno in 1978.
Before the decade was out, the majority of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s income was from its two hotels rather than its movie productions. So Kirk decided to split the two divisions into separate entities and retained a 47% stake in both.
In 1985, Kirk sold the first two MGM hotels to Bally Manufacturing, a company that had started out making pinball and slot machines in the 1930s. As part of the deal, Kirk retained the rights to the MGM name and the two hotels were renamed “Bally’s”.
Kirk then began focusing on building new hotel and casino resorts, including a new MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in 1990, which raised the standard for Las Vegas casinos and started a building boom that saw many of the now-famous resorts get built.
Auto Industry Investments
Despite having a penchant for expensive designer suits, Kirk Kerkorian had a far more modest taste when it came to cars. He was known to drive relatively cheap vehicles like the Pontiac Firebird and Ford Taurus.
This didn’t stop him spending big on investing in the manufacturers of these vehicles though. In 1995, he began an attempted hostile takeover of Chrysler, but the company’s management fought back and stopped it. Two years later, the company was bought by Daimler-Benz, a transaction that ultimately failed for both businesses.
Instead, Kirk tried buying a stake in General Motors, owning nearly 10% of the company in the mid-2000s. But again, he sold his shares after the takeover also failed. His final venture into the automotive industry began in April 2008, when he bought $1 billion of Ford stock.
However, poor timing led to Kirk’s investment losing two-thirds of its value by October of the same year. The Great Recession had seen all automotive companies lose a lot of their value, and Kirk is believed to have lost at least half a billion dollars.
Kirk Kerkorian’s Net Worth
Kirk Kerkorian’s net worth was amassed over a long career that started with him flying risky routes across the Atlantic Ocean for $1,000 ($18,487.50 today) a trip. It is believed he made this trip at least 33 times in less than three years.
Using this money, Kirk invested in numerous other businesses, most notably in the Hollywood movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Under the MGM banner, he built a huge hotel and casino resort empire that today spans across the United States and China.
According to Forbes magazine, Kirk’s net worth reached a peak of $16 billion in 2008. This made him California’s wealthiest and the world’s 41st richest person at the time. However, through philanthropic work, some unsuccessful investment decisions, and the 2008 Great Recession, his net worth sunk to $3.2 billion in 2011. Two years later, Kirk’s finances had recovered a little, climbing to $3.9 billion.
- Source of Money: Casino investments
- Net Worth in 2015: $3.9-4 billion
- Annual Salary: Not known
- House(s): At least one $22 million Beverly Hills estate
- Pontiac Firebird
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Ford Taurus