Fred Benninger, former chairman of Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios and MGM Grand, died Sunday at his Las Vegas home after a brief illness. He was 86.
Former gambling exec helped longtime friend and business partner Kirk Kerkorian build some of the city’s best known properties, including the massive MGM Grand hotel-casino.
Gunsburg, Germany, native emigrated to New York in 1928 after his father’s business was wiped out during the Depression and worked as a shoeshine boy to make extra money for his family. He graduated with honors from USC in 1941 and served in the United States Army Air Forces for four years during World War II, then made his mark in the gambling industry. He met Kerkorian through their shared roles as airline executives and in 1967 the men formed the International Leisure Corp., of which he was president until 1971.
During that time he developed and built the Intl. Hotel, later renamed the Las Vegas Hilton. He also oversaw the renovation of the Flamingo Hotel, now the Flamingo Las Vegas.
Kerkorian next purchased the MGM Film Co. and appointed Benninger chairman. In 1972, the partners again decided to build another Strip hotel-casino, which opened a year later as the MGM Grand (now Bally’s Las Vegas). He also built the former MGM Grand Hotel in Reno — now the Reno Hilton — the largest casino in the world when it opened in 1978.
In 1982, Benninger retired from MGM Grand Hotels and became chairman of Tracinda Corp., the private company owned by Kerkorian.
Benninger returned to MGM in 1986 and was its CEO until 1991; he was board chairman until 1995 but continued as a board member until his death.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Esther, and their two children.
Services will be private, a memorial will be scheduled at a later date.
Donations be sent to Jennifer Haley at the Nevada Cancer Institute, 10000 W. Charleston Blvd., Suite 260, Las Vegas, NV 89135.