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Kirk Kerkorian – The Visionary Casino Tycoon Who Invented Mega Resorts

The name Kirk Kerkorian is synonymous with visionary business strategies and remarkable philanthropic endeavors. This Armenian-American businessman, investor, and philanthropist carved a niche for himself as a true pioneer in various industries, most notably in shaping the glittering landscape of Las Vegas.

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As the president and CEO of Trancinda Corporation, his private holding company based in Beverly Hills, California, Kerkorian was at the forefront of numerous groundbreaking ventures.

One of his most significant legacies is his role in transforming the Las Vegas Strip into the entertainment mecca it is today.

Collaborating with architect Marting Stern Jr., Kerkorian is credited as the “father of the mega-resort.”

His vision materialized in the form of the world’s largest hotels, each a marvel in its time: The International Hotel (opened in 1969), the MGM Grand Hotel (1973), and the MGM Grand (1992).

Full NameFull Name
Kerkor "Kirk" Kerkorian
Net WorthNet Worth
$4.2 billion
Source of WealthSource of Wealth
Real estate, Film and Casino industry
Famous forFamous for
Building famous resorts in Las Vegas
June 6, 1917 - June 15, 2015

In this exploration of Kirk Kerkorian’s life, we delve into the depth of his achievements, the magnitude of his influence, and the enduring legacy he left behind. His story is not just about calculating the Kirk Kerkorian net worth, but understanding the invaluable impact he made on the world.

Kirk Kerkorian Highlights

Kirk Kerkorian’s highlights
  • Built some of the world’s biggest resorts
  • Named the 10th largest donor in the US by Time magazine in 2000
  • Bestowed the title of National Hero of Armenia
  • Armenia issued a Kirk Kerkorian stamp in 2017
  • He donated over $1 billion through his charity foundations
  • Was ranked as the 113th riches person in the United States

Kirk Kerkorian Childhood and Early Years

Kerkor "Kirk" Kerkorian was born on June 6, 1917, in Fresno, California. His Armenian parents, who bravely escaped present-day Turkey during the Armenian Genocide, imbued in young Kerkorian a spirit of perseverance from the very start.

As the youngest of four children, Kirk grew up in a household where Armenian was the first language. He picked up English only after spending some time on the streets.

The family’s move to Los Angeles following the depression of 1920-21 marked a significant turn in their fortunes. His father, known affectionately as Vill for his Pancho-like mustache, had once thrived during the great San Joaquin Valley raising boom of World War I.

However, the harsh blow of the 1920-21 recession saw their fortune dwindle, a lesson in the fleeting nature of success that would later shape Kerkorian’s business acumen.

In Los Angeles, the Kerkorians joined the urban poor, moving frequently through neighborhoods like Lincoln Heights and Jefferson Park, adapting to each new challenge.

It was here that young Kerkoriаn’s rugged, street-smart persona took shape. His early years were marked by toughness; he was expelled from Foshay Junior High for fighting and sent to Jacko Riis, a school for delinquent boys, before eventually dropping out in the eighth grade.

Yet, amidst these challenges, Kerkorian found a positive outlet in boxing. Under his older brother’s tutelage, he became a skilled amateur boxer.

But it was in 1939 that Kerkorian’s life took a pivotal turn. He decided to learn how to fly airplanes, opening new horizons and laying the groundwork for his future successes.

Becoming an Airplane Pilot

When World War II was just a storm brewing on the horizon, Kerkorian, wanting to dodge the infantry draft, decided to conquer the skies instead. He joined the Happy Bottom Riding Club in the Mojave Desert, where he learned to fly under the legendary aviator Pancho Barnes.

Kerkorian got his commercial pilot’s certificate in a lightning-fast six months. He jumped at the chance with the British Royal Air Force needing hot-shot pilots to fly planes across the Atlantic.

After the war ended, he invested the money he saved in a Cessna and started his career as a general aviation pilot.

His first trip to Las Vegas in 1944 set the stage for his future. By 1947, Kerkorian was flying gamblers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with his airline, Trans International Airlines.

Kerkorian managed the airline until 1968, eventually selling it to the Transamerica Corporation for $104 million.

Kirk Kerkorian’s Jorney into the Real Estate Game

Kerkorian’s ventures in real estate are as legendary as his airplane business exploits.

In 1962, he made a visionary move by purchasing 80 acres of land across the Las Vegas Strip from the Flamingo for $960,000.

This strategic acquisition laid the groundwork for the development of Caesars Palace, which initially leased the land from Kerkorian.

His savvy in leasing and later selling this land to Caesars in 1968 earned him a staggering $9 million, equivalent to about $70 today.

Kerkorian’s real estate ambition soared even higher in 1967. He acquired 82 acres on Paradise Road in Las Vegas for $5 million.

In collaboration with architect Martin Stern Jr., he built the International Hotel, which, at the time, was the world’s largest hotel.

Expanding his hospitality empire, Kerkorian’s International Leisure company also purchased the Flamingo Hotel. The International Hotel and the Flamingo were eventually sold to the Hilton Hotels Corporation and renamed the Las Vegas Hilton and the Flamingo Hilton.

Kirk Kerkorian’s quote

“When you're a self-made man, you start very early in life. In my case it was at 9 years old when I started bringing income into the family. You get a drive that's a little different, maybe a little stronger, than somebody who inherited.”

Kirk Kerkorian

Acquiring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Creating More History

After purchasing the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studio in 1969, Kerkorian opened the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.

This hotel was a marvel of its time, surpassing the size of the Empire State Building and setting a new record as the world’s largest hotel upon its completion.

In 1986, he sold the MGM Grand hotels in Las Vegas and Reno to Bally Manufacturing for $594 million, and the Las Vegas property was renamed Bally’s.

Kerkorian’s impact on the Sin City’s landscape didn’t stop there. MGM Resorts International, spun off from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, owns and operates several renowned properties, including the current MGM Grand, the Bellagio, New York-New York, Mandalay Bay, The Luxor, Excalibur, Park MGM, the Cosmopolitan, and the CityCenter complex.

Additionally, MGM Resorts International sold its Treasure Island Hotel and Casino to billionaire Phil Ruffin for $750 million.

The Marriages and Familiy Life of Kirk Kerkorian

Kerkorian’s life away from the public eye had its own share of ups and downs. He walked down the aisle four times, with his first marriage to Hilda Schmidt spanning a decade from 1942 to 1952.

His next venture into matrimony was with Jean Maree Hardy, whom he met at the Thunderbird Resort in Las Vegas. This relationship, lasting from 1954 to 1984, was the longest and arguably the most significant.

Jean and Kerkorian had two daughters, Tracy and Linda, who were the inspiration behind the names of his personal holding company, Tracinda Corporation, and this philanthropic venture, the Lincy Foundation.

Despite their divorce, the ex-couple remained close, sharing a bond that transcended their marital status.

His third marriage, however, was a brief chapter. In 1999, he married professional tennis player Lisa Bonder, 48 years younger than him. This marriage lasted only one month.

Kerkorian’s fourth and final marriage was in 2014 to Una Davis. This union, too, was short-lived, lasting just 57 days. Divorce proceedings were in the works when Kerkorian passed away on June 15, 2015.

Philanthropy and Altruistic Activity

Through the Lincy Foundation, Kerkorian quietly donated over $1 billion without seeking any recognition or naming rights.

In Armenia, his foundation funded half the cost of a crucial 80-kilometer highway and poured over $200 million into vital infrastructure projects.

He revitalized Armenia’s landscape, from reconstructing schools and streets to renovating museums, theaters, and concert halls.

The Lincy Foundations dissolved in 2011, distributing its last $200 million to UCLA for medical research, scholarships, and other notable causes.

After Kerkorian’s passing, most of his $2 billion estate was dedicated to charity, with a special committee ensuring the funds were distributed within three years.

Kirk Kerkorian Net Worth and Wealth

Kerkorian’s journey to remarkable wealth began with a strategic land purchase in Las Vegas in 1962. He upped the ante by opening the original MGM Hotel and Casino seven years later following his acquisition of the movie studio.

Even after stepping down from the board of MGM Resorts International in 2011, Kerkorian held a royal flush as the company’s largest shareholder, owning a 19% stake.

His savvy investments didn’t stop there - he also had a stake in MGM China through his holding company, Tracinda Corp.

As the CEO of Tracinda Corporation, Kirk Kerkorian’s net worth was $4.2 billion as of May 2015, according to Forbes.

A consistent figure on the Forbes billionaire list, he was ranked the 113th richest person in the United States.

Where Is Kirk Kerkorian Today?

Kirk Kerkorian bid farewell in June 2015, in Beverly Hills, California, merely days before his 98th birthday. His legacy lives on as he peacefully rests at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, nestled in Inglewood, California, adjacent to the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles. Kerkorian's visionary contributions to various industries, from aviation to entertainment, continue to inspire generations, marking him as a titan of entrepreneurial prowess and a symbol of enduring achievement.


Who Is Kirk Kerkorian?

Kirk Kerkorian was a renowned American businessman, investor, and philanthropist best known for his significant role in shaping the Las Vegas gaming and hospitality industry.

What Is Kirk Kerkorian Net Worth?

At the time of his death in 2015, Kirk Kerkorian's net worth was estimated at $4.2 billion, a fortune amassed from his ventures in movies and Las Vegas real estate.

Is Kirk Kerkorian Married?

Kirk Kerkorian was married four times. His spouses were Hilda Schmidt, Jean Maree Hardy, Lisa Bonder, and Una Davis, with the latter two marriages being notably brief.

Does Kirk Kerkorian Have Any Children?

Yes, Kirk Kerkorian had two children, both daughters, Tracy and Linda, from his marriage to Jean Maree Hardy. They inspired the names of his companies, Tracinda Corporation, and the Lincy Foundation.

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