Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian dead at 98

Investor made several attempts to purchase Detroit automakers.

Kerkor (Kirk) Kerkorian, the billionaire investor and controversial industry figure who tried more than once to acquire a Detroit automaker, died Monday night in Los Angeles.

Kerkorian was a prominent figure on the fringe of the U.S. automotive industry in the late 1990s and much of the first decade of the 21st century. The investor made several attempts to raise capital with the intent of taking over a U.S. manufacturer.

His first major play to get into the industry occurred in the early '90s. Kerkorian, in loose partnership with former Chrysler CEO and Chairman Lee Iacocca, launched a failed bid to buy out the cash-rich Auburn Hills automaker--a bid which in many ways paved the way for Chrysler's eventual (and ill-fated) merger with Daimler. Iacocca was later sued by Chrysler, who accused him of trading inside information with Kerkorian to facilitate the attempted takeover.

Kerkorian's next big move came against General Motors, in which he was substantially invested after the turn of the century. Kerkorian lobbied hard for GM to accept overseas investment. When that failed to materialize, he began to sell off his stake in the company. By the end of 2006, Kerkorian's investment firm had completely divested itself of GM stock, a sell-off which contributed to GM losing more than 90% of its share value.

When the automotive industry crashed in 2007, Kerkorian was ready. Chrysler, still bleeding from the explosion of the Daimler relationship, seemed an excellent target. Kerkorian made a purchase bid, ultimately losing out to Cerberus.

Kerkorian took one final stab at the industry in 2008. With his guidance, Tracinda made a massive investment in Ford, at one point owning more than 5% of the Blue Oval before eventually selling it off for unknown reasons.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Kerkorian died after battling a brief illness. The Tracinda Corporation CEO was 98.

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