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Kirk Kerkorian dead: Billionaire MGM & United Artists mogul dies at 98

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Chris Weeks/FilmMagic

Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, who was known for buying and selling studio properties such as MGM and United Artists, died Monday, the CEO of his company confirmed to EW. He was 98.

Kerkorian took an unusual detour in rising to a life of wealth. He first made money in real estate before buying MGM in 1969. Twelve years later, in 1981, he bought United Artists before selling both properties to Ted Turner for $1.5 billion. He ended up buying back both properties five months later (including the MGM name in its entirety) for $470 million. 

MGM and UA were sold a second time in 1990, this time to Pathe Communications and Giancarlo Parretti for $1.36 billion. Kerkorian brokered the deal so that he could retain use on the MGM name and eventually built up multiple assets across the country, including a theme park and hotels. The studio was sold back to Kerkorian in 1996, and he continued to expand on his empire, buying Orion Pictures, the Samuel Goldwyn Company and Motion Picture Corporation of America before selling it again in 2005.

Born Kerkor Kerkorian, the business man grew up in Fresno, California, and was the youngest of four children. He dropped out of high school and worked in odd jobs as well as boxing, before getting his pilot’s license and serving as a captain for the U.K.’s Royal Air Force Transport Command in World War II. He began buying and selling planes soon after, a path that would prepare him for his years of claiming property in Hollywood.

Kerkorian was married three times, first to Hilda Schdmit and then to former Vegas dancer Jean Maree Hardy. His brief and final third marriage was in 1990 with pro tennis player Lisa Bonder. He is survived by his daughters, Tracy Kerkorian and Linda Ross Hilton Kemper, as well as three grandchildren.