Kirk Kerkorian: The Gambler

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Kirk always seemed remarkably comfortable with risk.

As an aviation pioneer he risked his life flying factory-fresh bombers over the treacherous polar route from Canada to Scotland for the Royal Air Force during World War Two.

As a businessman he relished the big deal. His enormous successes mask the fact that he also lost billions of dollars.

Win or lose, Kirk maintained the same poker face. He once called life “a big craps game.”

He loved all manner of gambles…and the bigger the wager the better.

On Wall Street or in a casino, Kirk never felt more alive than when he was betting it all on a roll of the dice.


Kirk Kerkorian, flight instructor, 1940s. Photo courtesy of Una Davis




Kirk’s early life  offered no hint of a future among billionaires.

He was a child when he and his Armenian immigrant parents were evicted from the family’s debt-laden farm near a place called Weedpatch in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Running out on landlords would become a familiar pattern during lean years deep into the Great Depression.

Kirk was often the new kid in school, fending off bullies bare fisted and learning English on the streets of Los Angeles.

His formal education ended with the eighth grade in a school for problem kids.

kirk kerkorian 1930s teen
Kirk Kerkorian 1930s teen. Photo courtesy of Alex Yemenidjian


Kirk’s first big dream was to compete for a boxing crown.

He won a string of amateur fights in Southern California, a regional welterweight championship and a prized nickname: “Rifle Right” Kerkorian.

He traded his gloves for wings when he discovered flying.

He shoveled manure on the dairy farm of aviatrix Pancho Barnes in trade for flight lessons.

But throughout his life, Kirk remained an avid boxing fan, promoter and a friend of fighters.

Welterweight "Rifle Right" Kerkorian
Welterweight “Rifle Right” Kerkorian. Photo courtesy of Una Davis


Still Rifle Right Kerkorian
Still Rifle Right Kerkorian in his 80s. Photo courtesy of Darryl Goldman


Kerkorian flanked by
Kerkorian flanked by “Iron Mike” Tyson (right) and Ron Falahi, Kirk’s fitness adviser and personal assistant for 30+ years. Photo courtesy of Ron Falahi.


kirk kerkorian cary grant ray anthony
Kirk Kerkorian with friends Cary Grant and band leader Ray Anthony. Photo courtesy of Ray Anthony


kirk kerkorian 1950s
Kirk Kerkorian 1950s. Photo courtesy of Una Davis


Kirk with tennis great and namesake Andre Kirk Agassi. Photo courtesy of Gene Kilroy.


kirk kerkorian sister rose pechuls
Kirk and his sister Rose Pechuls, Photo courtesy of Gene Kilroy



Kirk in his private jet with companion and future wife, Una Davis. Photo courtesy of Una Davis


Kirk Kerkorian’s New York Times Obituary, 2015.