On June 15, 2015, a billionaire named Kirk Kerkorian passed away at the age of 98. Perhaps Kirk wasn’t as well-known as other millionaires like Mark Cuban, Donald Trump, or Warren Buffett. And that’s kind of a shame because Kirk was probably one of the most interesting billionaires who has ever walked the earth. You don’t trust me? This is the remarkable tale of his life.
Kirk Kerkor Kerkorian was born on June 6, 1917 in Fresno, California. His parents were impoverished farmers who immigrated from Armenia during the Great Depression. The family lost their land when Kirk was three years old. To pursue greater opportunities, they relocated to Los Angeles. Eventually, his father ran a fruit stand. Due to the family’s extreme poverty, Kirk was forced to leave school in the eighth grade in order to find employment.
Kirk started boxing as a hobby in his spare time. His older brother trained him to the point where Kirk was able to win the Pacific Welterweight boxing championship under the name “Rifle Right Kerkorian”.
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World War II and Aviation
He installed water hearing furnaces while he wasn’t fighting. At 22, he installed a furnace for a many name Ted O’Flaherty who happened to be an amateur pilot. Ted once asked Kirk to accompany him on a flight around the California coast. That flight must have had a special effect since Kirk became addicted to flying ever since.
Kirk was aware that, as World War II approached, he would be the ideal age to be drafted at some point and assigned to the general infantry division. Kirk began taking flying lessons in the Mojave Desert from a woman named Pancho Barnes out of concern that the infantry would not have a high survival rate. He couldn’t afford the lessons, so he volunteered to milk and take care of Pancho’s cows in exchange for money.
One of the fortunate ones was Kirk. Kirk had never been on an aircraft and had scarcely ever left California when he enlisted in the Royal Air Force, much less the entire country, just seven months earlier. He spent countless hours in the air, piloted 33 different kinds of aircraft by the end of World War II, and visited four continents.
Kirk was extremely frugal with his money throughout the conflict. In fact, he was able to save the majority of every dollar he had ever received. When the war was over, Kirk spent his entire savings, $5000, to buy his own Cessna plane ($5000 in the mid 1940s is the same as $67,000 today). He subsequently started driving wealthy individuals from Hollywood to Las Vegas and back as a general aviation pilot.
In 1947, Kirk bought Trans International Airlines, a tiny air charter service company that specialized in carrying gamblers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, with the $60,000 he managed to win at the craps tables (approximately $635,000 today).
Kirk’s firm flourished during the ensuing 20 years. He grew by acquiring more aircraft and establishing fresh routes up and down the west coast. For $104 million (about $707 million today), he sold Trans International to the Transamerica Corporation in 1968.
Viva Las Vegas
Kirk had a variety of business interests. He paid $960,000 ($7.5 million) for 80 acres of land in Las Vegas back in 1962. His land became the new location for a tiny casino called Caesars Palace four years later.
One year before the Caesars sale, Kirk purchased 82 acres of land on the strip for $5 million and began construction of the International Hotel. The International was the biggest hotel in the world when construction was finished. The first guests to perform at the hotel were Barbra Streisand and Elvis. For 30 days in a row, Elvis sold out 4200 seats at each performance.
Soon, Kirk became the owner of the Flamingo Hotel. He sold both the Flamingo and the International to the Hilton Hotel Corporation.
In 2000, Kerkorian bought Steve Wynn’s Mirage Resorts for $6.4 billion. For $4.8 billion, he acquired Mandalay Resorts in 2004.
Today, MGM Resorts International owns the Bellagio, the current MGM Grand, New York – New York, Circus Circus, Mandalay Bay, The Luxor, The Excalibur and the Mirage. Additionally, they currently possess the brand-new Las Vegas CityCenter complex.