Kerkor ‘Kirk’ Kerkorian was one of the most prolific business tycoons to influence the United States in the mid to late 20th century. His focus on resorts saw him develop Las Vegas into the entertainment mecca it is today.
During his time as a businessman, his philanthropic efforts saw Kerkorian become a hero to many in the US, as well as one of the most iconic figures in his ancestral homeland of Armenia.
Kirk Kerkorian Biography
- Real Full Name: Kerkor “Kirk” Kerkorian
- Nick Name: Kirk Kerkorian
- Profession: Armenian businessman
- Born: 6 June 1917, Fresno, California, United States
- Died: 15 June 2015, Beverly Hills, California, United States
- Net worth: $4.0 billion (June 2015)
- Spouse: Una Davis (m. 2014–2015), MORE
- Children: Tracy Kerkorian, Linda Kerkorian Kemper, Linda Kerkorian
Kirk Kerkorian was born on June 6, 1917, in Fresno, California. His first language was Armenian, which he spoke with his parents, who migrated from the country. Prior to Kerkorian’s interests in business, he spent time as an amateur boxer with his brother, Nish Kerkorian.
Over time, Kerkorian earned himself the nickname ‘Rifle Right Kerkorian’ due to his success in the ring. However, his days in the boxing ring were numbered. Eventually, Kerkorian began his professional life by earning a commercial piloting license.
Along the way, Kerkorian, in his early twenties, met Pancho Barnes. Barnes, a female aviator who had recently broken Amelia Earhart’s airspeed record, took Kerkorian under her wing. Coupled with his commercial flying lessons, Barnes helped mold the young aviator.
After only six months of flying, Kerkorian found his big business idea in the midst of World War II. He endeavored to cut the time it took the British Royal Air Force to deliver Canadian combat aircraft to Scotland from North America.
The catch? Kerkorian swore to deliver planes faster while utilizing less fuel than was thought necessary. Along with his wing commander, Kerkorian made good on his promise and spent the next few years saving his wages from the Royal Air Force by delivering the de Havilland Mosquitos over the Atlantic.
After two and a half years, Kerkorian had saved enough to buy a Cessna plane. He moved back to California and began making commercial flights to Las Vegas. Three years later, in 1947, Kerkorian had saved enough to purchase Trans International Airlines. In only twenty years, the savvy businessman would raise the company’s worth from the $60,000 he purchased it for to $104 million.
Business Career & Net Worth
Kerkorian is best known for his business deals in Las Vegas, which helped develop the strip and turn the desert mecca into an iconic City of Lights. In 1962, six years prior to selling Trans International Airlines, Kerkorian purchased 80 acres along the Vegas strip.
At the time, Kerkorian wasn’t in the resort industry yet. Businessmen Jay Sarno and Stanley Mallin approached Kerkorian with an idea to build an opulent resort that would reflect the height of the Roman Empire.
Kerkorian accepted the offer and rented his recently-purchased land to the men. Four years later, Caesars Palace was born. Only two years after construction was complete, Kerkorian sold the land to Caesars Palace’s owners to earn $9 million (the same year he sold his Trans International Airlines for $104 million).
Kerkorian started his own International Leisure group, which helped build the International Hotel to great success. Around the same time, Kerkorian purchased the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer cinema studio and began his first projects as MGM.
The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino opened in 1973 as the first project of MGM Resorts International. Other major properties include the Bellagio, The Mirage, New York-New York, Circus Circus, Mandalay Bay, The Luxor, Excalibur, and Monte Carlo—though Kerkorian eventually sold MGM Resorts International in 1986 for $594 million.
According to Macrotrends, MGM Resorts has a net worth of just over $15 billion as of January 2021. The brand’s success in Vegas and abroad is a testament to Kerkorian’s vision back in the late 1960s. Even today, MGM’s online casino features on New Jersey casino offer pages alongside other industry leaders—despite the fact that many brick-and-mortar establishments based in Vegas have ample competition in the online sector.
Aside from his ventures in Las Vegas, Kerkorian also had ample involvement in the film industry via his MGM days, as well as forays into the world of automobiles through dealings with General Motors and Chrysler Group.
Personal Life & Philanthropic Efforts
Kerkorian married three times. His second marriage to English dancer Jean Hardy lasted thirty years. The pair had two daughters together, Tracy and Linda, from whom Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corporation took its name.
Beyond his high-profile business deals, Kerkorian was known to be extremely private. Although some considered him to be a manic genius capable of being a hermit, those closest to him knew him as a normal guy.
Though the business tycoon had a love for custom-tailored wardrobes from some of the world’s most expensive brands, he was known to drive average cars like Jeeps and Fords. In fact, Kerkorian had a long legacy of philanthropy—despite his level of wealth at the time of his death in 2015.
Much like the Tracinda Corporation drew on his daughter’s names, so did his Lincy Foundation, established in 1989. The charitable foundation was formed to carry out his philanthropic efforts, most of which originally sought to restore areas after a devastating earthquake in Armenia.
There, Kerkorian funded a trans-national highway, as well as multiple infrastructure restoration projects that drew on more than $200 million in donations. In addition to replacing infrastructure, donations were also used to restore museums, theatres, and other culturally significant locations.
His work in his parents’ native country helped earn him the title of National Hero of Armenia in 2004, the nation’s highest honor. However, in 2011, Kerkorian folded the Lincy Foundation. It’s final charitable push saw $200 million donated to the University of California, Los Angeles.
The money was entrusted for medical research, but also included a ‘Dream Fund’ allocation that would see the funds transfer to other charities nationwide. Kerkorian’s final act of philanthropy came upon his passing in 2015.
At the time, his estate was worth around $2 billion. Kerkorian appointed a three-person committee that would distribute the majority of his remaining wealth to charities following his death.
His legacy is survived by his efforts in philanthropy, his efforts to develop Las Vegas, and his financing in Hollywood cinema. To date, he’s one of the greatest examples of the ‘American Dream’.
Kirk Kerkorian Quotes
“Life is a big craps game. I’ve got to tell you, it’s all been fun”. – Kirk Kerkorian
“I used to think that if I made $50,000 I’d be the happiest guy in the world.” -Kirk Kerkorian
“I think we’ll do alright.” -Kirk Kerkorian
“I guess I know what I want and the other side knows what they want and you put your cards on the table.”- Kirk Kerkorian
“Fortunately, I’ve been successful at almost every area I went into. Probably a lot of luck.”-Kirk Kerkorian
“I don’t claim to have any mystique at all. I’ve been lucky and I work hard.” -Kirk Kerkorian
“’m pretty lucky and I have accomplished a lot.” -Kirk Kerkorian
“My mother and father came as Armenian immigrants.” -Kirk Kerkorian
“I wish I could talk like Donald Trump or Steve Wynn. Hell, I’d love it.” – Kirk Kerkorian
“I figure America has really been good to us. I like to give back.” -Kirk Kerkorian
“We have a vision!” -Kirk Kerkorian
“I’m not a firm believer, that you have to have 30 years of experience, if you’ve got good, common sense.” -Kirk Kerkorian