Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, an eighth-grade dropout who built Las Vegas' biggest hotels, tried to take over Chrysler, and bought and sold MGM at a profit three times, died last night at age 98. The reserved, unpretentious Kerkorian spent much of his life trying to stay out of the spotlight and rarely gave interviews. He called himself a "small-town boy who got lucky." He shunned glitzy Hollywood parties and movie premieres in favor of making deals. Rather than arrive at an event by limousine, he often drove himself in a Mercury station wagon. "He was a very private guy who shunned the limelight, both in a business way and from a charitable standpoint," said Patty Glaser, his attorney of four decades.
After making his first fortune ferrying gamblers to Las Vegas with Trans International Airlines, he built the 30-story, 1,568-room International Hotel, the world's largest hotel when it opened in the late 1960s. He brought Elvis Presley to perform there in 1969 as the rock legend relaunched his live performance career. When Kerkorian opened the first MGM Grand in Las Vegas in the 1970s, it was again the world's largest hotel, containing more than 2,000 rooms and a 1,200-seat showroom. Years later, he would build another MGM Grand, this one with more than 5,000 rooms—again, the world's largest. "He built the rooms and attractions to bring an incredibly broad base of affluent people to Las Vegas," Hal Rothman, a history professor at the University of Nevada, once said. (Read more Kirk Kerkorian stories.)