Kirk Kerkorian

A lion of Las Vegas: Remembering Kirk Kerkorian

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The father: Kirk Kerkorian, (1917-2015) in front of the future International Hotel in 1969.

It’s fun to catch Steve Wynn unaware. It doesn’t happen too often, as the resort mogul seems prepared for any question or comment flung his way. But three years ago, nearly to the day, Wynn stopped when asked about Kirk Kerkorian.

It was during the opening of the restaurant Mizumi at Wynn Las Vegas. Just a week earlier, Kerkorian had turned 95. Wynn always talked of him reverentially, as if he were his own father, and I’d asked if the two talked on Kerkorian’s birthday.

“Wow, that’s right. It’s June and I need to call him tomorrow,” Wynn said, shaking his head and smiling. “He is a remarkable physical specimen. He has always been active.”

Wynn then mulled the question about who should be considered the “father of Las Vegas.” Many longtime Las Vegans, historians and even interested tourists would say it should be Wynn himself, given his indelible imprint on the Strip through the design and construction of such marvels as Mirage, Bellagio and sister properties Wynn and Encore.

But Wynn would not consider himself the father of anything where Kerkorian was involved. The latter, who died June 15 at age 98, was a true pioneer in the development of mega-resorts in Las Vegas. In 1969, he built the International Hotel (later the Las Vegas Hilton, LVH and now Westgate Las Vegas), and the original MGM Grand (now Bally’s) in 1971. He was the former owner of the Desert Inn, and in 1993 opened the current MGM Grand at Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard. Kerkorian also owned the Strip parcel on which Caesars Palace was built in 1966. He purchased Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio in 1970 and was involved in buying and selling the MGM and United Artists studios, finally selling his interest in MGM to Sony in 2005 for $5 billion.

“I’d rather be the son of Las Vegas!” Wynn said, laughing. “For me, father is too old! Kirk is 95. He should be father. I’m the son, or the baby. I’m clinging to my immaturity. I’m growing old gracelessly.” It was a joke, as Wynn has essentially accepted the mantle of the city’s elder statesman. Maybe he’s not the father, but he was inspired by the man who cast that kind of shadow.

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