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RIP Kirk Kerkorian: The Man Who Killed MGM and UA

RIP Kirk Kerkorian: The Man Who Killed MGM and UA

Kirk Kerkorian, the Tracinda Corp. owner and aircraft and real estate mogul who founded Las Vegas’ first mega-resort, the MGM Grand Hotel, died at age 98 at his Beverly Hills home on Monday June 15. He used his Hollywood contacts, from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Barbra Streisand, to bring stars to the Las Vegas Strip. And over the decades he acquired and divested himself of various versions of MGM and United Artists, stripping them of their potency until they were slivers of their former selves. 
Kerkorian’s Hollywood timeline:
1969: When the outsider first bought the fabled musical factory Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1969, he was regarded as a true “barbarian at the gate” of the venerable Hollywood studio based in Culver City. He was one of the first investors who looked at the studios as an assemblage of assets to be exploited. He put James Aubrey in charge, who got rid of many studio assets and collectibles, including the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.”

1973: Kerkorian removed Aubrey and sold MGM’s distribution system.

1976: Kerkorian acquired a 25% stake in Columbia Pictures.

1980: After several legal wrangles he let it go at a profit.

1984: He made an abortive run at Disney. 

1981: Kerkorian bought United Artists for $380 million after the “Heaven’s Gate” debacle, when the New York-based studio was damaged by TransAmerica’s mishandling. And he founded his holding company, Tracinda Corp.  

1982: Kerkorian turned MGM/UA Home Entertainment into a public company, selling 15% of its stock to the public, and then bought it back.

1986: Kerkorian sold the two companies for $1.5 billion to mogul Ted Turner who was eager to get his hands on the vast MGM/UA library (which included pre-1950 Warner Bros. titles).

1986: Within five months, Kerkorian had reacquired the MGM name and Culver City lot as well as all of United Artists for $470 million. (The lot has been through many hands and is currently owned by Sony.) 

1990: Kerkorian sold MGM/UA to Giancarlo Parretti’s Pathe Communications for $1.36 billion, holding onto the MGM name, which he was planning to use for his Las Vegas hotels, theme park, and an airline. 

1993: Always eager to exploit the MGM brand and logo, Kerkorian opened the 2,000-room MGM-Grand in Las Vegas, complete with an MGM theme park packed with licensed MGM characters and titles. He also owned at one time the Bellagio and the Mirage. He finally sold the MGM Grand Hotels in Las Vegas and Reno to Bally’s for more than $500 million.

1996: Parretti defaulted on his loans, leaving the studio controlled by French bank Credit Lyonnais, which sold it back to Kerkorian.

1997: Kerkorian bought Orion Pictures, the Samuel Goldwyn Company and Motion Picture Corporation of America from John Kluge’s Metromedia, as well as a majority stake in the pre-1996 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment library, which was being sold to Seagram.

2004: Kerkorian sold MGM to an investment group led by Sony Corp. It was no longer an independent studio. He kept  a 55% stake in MGM Mirage. But MGM and United Artists had shriveled from their former major distribution and production status down to libraries and real estate entities weighed down by debt. Under his leadership the executives running the studios ranged from mediocre to competent (David Begelman, Freddie Fields, Jerry Weintraub, Frank Yablans and Alan Ladd Jr.) and the movies they released were less than stellar. Kerkorian was mostly focused on capitalizing on licensing the studio’s library to TV networks and distributing videos and DVDs. 

Finally, Kerkorian’s true legacy is that he was the man who killed MGM and UA. 

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