An admiring biography of the Vegas wheeler-dealer who made billions but whose personal life became quite tangled.
Veteran Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Rempel (At the Devil's Table: The Man Who Took Down the World's Biggest Crime Syndicate, 2011, etc.), a consultant for the TV show Narcos, returns with a richly detailed account of the life of Kirk Kerkorian (1917-2015). The author begins in 1972 in Las Vegas, ventures back to 1944, when Kerkorian was a daring and fortunate pilot, moves back to his subject’s birth and boyhood, and continues chronologically thereafter. Kerkorian was a fearless gambler—in casinos (at the tables, he once bet $1 million on a single roll of the dice), at the bargaining table in business deals, and in his love life. Throughout, Rempel emphasizes Kerkorian’s my-word-and-handshake-are-golden business ethos, his astonishing generosity, and his fierce desire to avoid the limelight. (Several times, the author contrasts Kerkorian’s style to that of Donald Trump.) All sorts of celebrities—in business, sports, and elsewhere—glide through the text, including tennis star Andre Agassi; Mike Tyson, whose infamous ear-biting episodes occurred at a fight in Kerkorian’s MGM Grand Hotel in Vegas; fellow business magnate Lee Iacocca; Elvis Presley; and Cary Grant, one of Kerkorian’s good friends. We also learn about Kerkorian’s exercise regimen—he loved tennis and stayed fit throughout his life—and the only negative aspects of his character that Rempel deals with are the mogul’s various marriages (three) and love affairs, one of which dissolved into nastiness, lawsuits, and paternity questions. The vast fortune Kerkorian assembled was truly astonishing; his many Vegas, airline, and automotive deals put him in the ranks of America’s richest people. Although the author and his subject never met, the text is chockablock with dialogue and intimate detail assembled by deep research and many interviews.
The compelling story of a Horatio Alger who lived well into his 90s.