The Passing of a Real, Live Dirty Harry

Posted on July 6, 2015 by Robert Ringer


As you may know, the remarkable Kirk Kerkorian passed away on June 15 at the age of ninety-eight. His rags-to-riches story is like a movie. As I’ve written about in the past, one of my great regrets is not having made the effort to meet a number of people whom I admired, and Kirk Kerkorian is at the top of that list.

Born to Armenian immigrant parents, he was a grade-school dropout who became king of Las Vegas (sorry about that, Steve Wynn) by swooping past Howard Hughes while Hughes was wasting away on the top floor of the Desert Inn Hotel. Kerkorian’s death was personal to me because he was my last living role model — and the one I most admired.

Preceding Kerkorian on my short list of role models was Howard Hughes himself, as well as two titans of the golden era of the so-called robber barons, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Even though it’s probably true that Carnegie and Rockefeller, who were bitter rivals, ate little kids for breakfast, I was fascinated by their relentless drive to accumulate vast fortunes. In addition, of course, both were giant philanthropists. (Sorry about that, anti-capitalists.)

Starting in his mid-thirties, Carnegie lived a royal lifestyle that is unimaginable even by today’s multibillionaire standards, and spent a great deal of time building public libraries and funding myriad charities. I was amazed by how he started with nothing at the age of thirteen — as a dirt-poor immigrant from Scotland — and became the richest man in the world long before he retired at age sixty-six.

What titillated me about Howard Hughes — whose life also was like a movie, but for very different reasons than Kerkorian’s — was that he did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and with whomever he wanted. And, unlike today’s corporate toadys, when he was forced to testify before a Senate committee regarding some of his business dealings, he had an in-your-face attitude toward the meddlesome senators who tried, unsuccessfully, to intimidate him.

Though he came from a wealthy (but depraved) family, there’s no question that Hughes was a tough guy. He once had Frank Sinatra, whom he hated (something, I suspect, that had more than a little to do with their common interest in Ava Gardner), thrown out of the Sands Hotel, which at the time he owned.

And when the manager of the Desert Inn wanted him to vacate the top floor of the hotel to make room for New Year’s Eve high rollers, Hughes simply bought the hotel. He even tried every dirty trick in the book to stop Kerkorian from building the biggest hotel in the world in Las Vegas, but Kerkorian overcame his dastardly plots and succeeded not only in building the world’s biggest hotel — but building it three times.

From a young age, Hughes, like most other members of his family, was eccentric to an extreme. It was not uncommon for him to show up in nightclubs in a suit and sneakers (“tennis shoes,” in those days). And then there’s the story about his making his secretaries wear rubber gloves to protect him from germs.

But perhaps the most bizarre anecdote of all is that Robert Maheu, who for years was chief executive of Hughes’s Nevada operations, never even met Hughes in person. He received all his instructions via telephone. But in Hughes’s waning, drugged-out days, living on the top floor of the Desert Inn Hotel, he abruptly fired Maheu, claiming he was “stealing me blind.”

At the time, I was a young, wannabe acquisitions and merger hotshot, who, quite frankly, didn’t know what he was doing. But I knew how to get publicity, so I thought hooking up with Maheu might be a good PR move.

Having just lost his cushy job with Hughes, I had a hunch he might respond positively if I contacted him. So I wrote him a letter telling him that I’d like to meet with him about the possibility of his joining forces with me, and, sure enough, his response was positive.

Maheu and I met in my office for about an hour, without anything substantive resulting from the meeting. And given that I couldn’t really afford him anyway, I don’t think I ever tried to contact him again, nor did he contact me.

As to Hughes, as his depraved life spun ever more rapidly out of control, I lost respect for him as a person, though I still believe he was a genius and one of the great financiers and industrialists in American history.

Enter Kirk Kerkorian. In the late sixties, Kerkorian, previously unknown by the standards of a Howard Hughes, was starting to seriously challenge Hughes as The Man in Las Vegas. I was totally fascinated by his every move, and he became a new role model for me. Kerkorian was everything Hughes was not — sane, gentlemanly, soft spoken, deadly serious, and a straight shooter. No question about it, Kirk Kerkorian was the anti-Hughes.

Then, I believe it was sometime around 1971, actor Dale Robertson (Tales of Wells Fargo, The Iron Horse) invited me to dinner at his ranch in the San Fernando Valley. Dale was a delightful guy, and we spent much of the evening exchanging stories about people we both knew.

At one point, I happened to mention Kirk Kerkorian (whom I did not know), and he told me that Kerkorian was a longtime friend of his. I was all ears and totally mesmerized listening to him tell tales about his amazing friend.

There were two stories, in particular, that I still remember in vivid detail. The first was about a time when he was playing a friendly game of tennis with Kerkorian. At one point in their match, Dale, who was at the net, asked Kerkorian if he might be interested in partnering up with him and buying the old Bonanza Hotel on the Strip.

He went on to explain that the Bonanza was sitting on forty-three acres of prime land right across from Caesars Palace, and they could tear down the Bonanza and build a new, much larger, much fancier hotel. Whereupon Kerkorian walked up to the net, squinted one eye, and asked Robertson, “How long have we been friends?”

“About twenty-five years,” Robertson answered. To which Kerkorian responded, “Let’s keep it that way. Don’t ever mention business to me again.” Kerkorian then walked to the back line and prepared to serve. It was like a scene right out of Dirty Harry.

For the record, Kerkorian later bought the Bonanza Hotel and the forty-three acres under it, and, for the second time in just a few years, built the biggest hotel in the world — the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (which he later sold to Bally’s).

The other great story that I remember was when Kerkorian opened his first “biggest hotel in the world,” the International. A genius at promotion, he made a deal with Barbra Streisand to be the hotel’s opening attraction, which resulted in a great deal of nationwide publicity.

According to Robertson, when Streisand got huffy and demanded the presidential suite on the top floor of the hotel, Kerkorian put her in her place by telling her, in his classic calm but firm tone, “That suite is reserved for high rollers who can afford to lose a million bucks in the casino, so even I don’t use it. What you’re going to get is a premier suite, which is more than good enough. Next subject.”

Of course, I got the story secondhand from Robertson, who in turn got it from Kerkorian, so I have no way of knowing if every word was precisely accurate. But I don’t believe Dale would have made it up out of thin air, and it sounded like the same Dirty Harry personality that only Kerkorian could pull off in a completely natural way — because he really was Dirty Harry!

Some years later, my family and I were having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Matteo’s, and sitting directly across from us, no more than six feet away, was none other than Kirk Kerkorian. Even though I had a pretty high public profile, I felt like a star-struck teenage girl. After all, I was just another bestselling author, but Kerkorian was the most powerful man in Las Vegas.

Throughout my meal, I thought about going over to his table and introducing myself, but I have an aversion to doing tacky things, so I refrained. But I did notice him glancing at me a number of times — or so I thought.

Years later, a friend of mine who knew Kerkorian said he had recently spoken with him, and happened to mention my name in passing. He said Kerkorian knew who I was and asked what I was currently working on. It took me by complete surprise.

The takeaway is that life is short, so it’s always a good idea to make an effort to meet people whom you admire. It’s one of those pearls you can add to the treasure trove of memories you create — memories that are such an important part of a life well lived.

In an effort to console myself, however, maybe it’s a good thing that I didn’t get to know Kirk Kerkorian, because I might not have been able to resist the temptation to talk to him about getting involved with me in some hair-brained deal — perhaps buying a great piece of land twenty-five miles outside of Las Vegas and building the world’s biggest hotel — for the fourth time.

So maybe everything works out for the best. I’m not sure I could have handled the Dirty Harry response that almost certainly would have come back at me — something similar to Keenan Wynn’s harsh admonishment to Frank Sinatra (Tony Manetta) when, in the classic film A Hole in the Head, Sinatra tried to hustle him into a deal: “Never try to promote a promoter.”

R.I.P., Kirk. Sorry I missed out on knowing you, but you’ll always be a role model to me — and one of the coolest billionaires ever to pass this way. Famous people generally don’t impress me — but famous people with character and class do.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

31 responses to “The Passing of a Real, Live Dirty Harry”

  1. Rick Harmon says:

    Kirk was my inspiration, having learned about him during college from my finance professor. A great example of courage which I was to appreciate during my trials and tribulations.

  2. R SCOTT Scott B. says:

    Robert – once again you have done it! This was an excellent article about someone whom I also admired a great deal. Like you I never had an opportunity to meet him. I wish I had. He was AMAZING. You nailed it about him in this story. Thank you! RIP Mr. Kerkorian.

  3. Richard Lee Van Der says:

    What a beautiful story! It helps me put my own long life in perspective. Thank you, Mr. Ringer.

  4. larajf says:

    Now I need to go find out more about him! Thank you for giving me another lead on someone to inspire me.

  5. Rob Bonter says:

    Really interesting experiences. I notice in "success" profiles like this one, there is always a gap, a gap I wish could be filled in, not left to one's imagination to just assume the specific details. And that is, many highly successful people, dating from the 19th century tycoons to the present, start at the bottom as a poor, high school drop out just trying to make ends meet as a youthful struggling salesman, a clerk, a burger flipper, etc.

    Then, fast forward to their ascendancy, they become the Kirk Kirkorian, the Steve Wynn, the Robert Maheu, etc., much acclaimed for their opulent wealth and life style, but how did they get from A to Z while leaving most of the rest of the human race in their wake?

    This is interesting to me because everyone in the world who is struggling financially, while living in a rut for a lifestyle, would like to duplicate the success, or merely approach it, of those who also started from humble roots but made it to the top.

    I know a little about J.D. Rockefeller's early experience in the business world. I read that he earned $5 per week as a clerk, and out of that tithed to his church AND saved $1.50. But he must have done something besides just being frugal to come to own railroads and his own personal oil cartel, to go with his fortune in bank holdings, etc?

    So how did Kirk bridge the gap from being a nobody to becoming the King Of Las Vegas, step by step, with a time frame as to how long he spent at each level, moving forward? What were the obstacles he surmounted to stay on course?

    Of course if there are esoteric principles herein working people can learn and apply on the road to realizing a tangible income and life style upgrade in their lives, that would be enormously beneficial and rewarding, all around.

    • David Fort says:

      I agree…and very well stated!

    • oscarwildeweenr says:

      "they become", you write.

      here's the mostly unsung, uncelebrated, un-promoted undistributed middle:

      the vault’s not about (remember lance armstrong’s book?), or in, the pole. It’s in the vaulter. And always was. “becoming” is “already was” that managed – was lucky enough – to “find itself” in the appropriate place/time in the puzzlebox. Then, even more luck. Not too hard to imagine an unfound pole vaulter cashing paychecks from his job guarding a bank vault in poland, is it?

      am pretty sure the “malkina” character in “the counselor” says “undistributed middle”, at some point. its worthwhile to make an association, a strong one, between malkina-type characters & those middle, hunting, grounds….

    • Jean says:

      I've asked the same question, and decided to do some hands-on research by asking some of today's millionaire entrepreneurs exactly that. I was blessed with the chance to speak to a handful of people (mainly women, BTW) who started and grew home-based businesses from their kitchen tables into million-dollar enterprises. Their similarities: they took responsibility for the success / failure of their business and didn't blame "the economy" or their gender for any setbacks, they were all excellent money managers and good stewards of their resources, and they discovered a way to fill a need gap in the marketplace and served their respective customers not just adequately but excellently. They also got over the ingrained notion that "marketing" and "sales" were "icky", went out and did a lot of face to face selling to wholesalers, distributors, purchasing agents and potential customers and didn't give up until they landed at least one new client a day. Yep – it's that old "hard work" mantra, or in leftist speak, "microaggression against those who didn't make it."

  6. RealitySeeker says:

    "Kerkorian’s death was personal to me because he was my last living role model — and the one I most admired…………. bla, bla,bla, ………..Preceding Kerkorian on my short list of role models was Howard Hughes himself, as well as two titans of the golden era of the so-called robber barons, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. ………. bla, bla, bla………

    Hey, cheer up!— and don't be so sad, Robert, because there's plenty of robber barons, banksters, crony capitalists, fascist politicians, werdo-Howard-Hughes-types and Wall-Street fraudsters left for you to idolize and fawn over.. They all have interesting stories; just like the mafia bosses had/have interesting stories, too, and they are/were very "charitable".. Why don't you write about Trump! Now there's a "Dirty Harry" if there ever was one………And he'd make a great role model— and a great president, too….. yeah…..

  7. Jon says:

    A personal friend was the executive assistant to one of Hughes' top lieutenants and was invited to Howard's home one evening. Howard asked her if she would like a drink to which she responded "Yes." Howard then returned with a glass of water.

    • Robby Bonter says:

      He saved a quarter, in that time's currency, by making the switch from spirits to water. Good money manager, he was.

  8. Greg says:

    Wonderful article! Back in college, I penned a book about nine of the financial tycoons. Kirk Kerkorian was chapter three and Howard Hughes was chapter four. They were amazing guys.

  9. Mark Sanders says:

    Let's see now……one of your "heroes" from the past was Rockefeller ? Wow, amazing that YOU must have missed reading and knowing about how Rockefeller was IN ON THE DEAL….CALLED THE FEDERAL RESERVE ??? You know….THAT GROUP of guys….insiders…who sought to TAKE OVER THE WORLD VIA FIAT CURRENCY and then selling it back to: WE THE PEOPLE ? Oh yeah…lots to admire there. And to think I was ….this close …to actually buying one of your courses. You REALLY LOST ME in this SEGWAY FROM R-E-A-L-I-T-Y. You must be one of those….."Greed is GOOD" guys eh ? I'm sure that YOU WISH YOU WERE ONE OF THE INSIDERS …eh as in OLIGARCHS ? Really, really…..REALLY ……LET DOWN.

    • Carol says:

      Mark…and Reality Seeker too…I think you have both missed the point of RR's article. He wasn't trying to say he admired all of these men for their virtues…. but for their drive to go from nothing to the top! For some the means to success may have been less than admirable, but the drive to achieve success was what he wanted to emphasize. And when that drive is embodied in a man of virtue, the world benefits.

      • Robert Ringer RJR says:

        Thanks for taking the time to read the article carefully, Carol. I always appreciate that in a reader.

      • RealitySeeker says:

        I missed nothing.

        I know who is and who isn't a role model. I know who should and who shouldn't be on a "short list". For example, Ron Paul is a role model. Anybody who can rub elbows with and fight against Washington scum year after year without becoming a total scumbag, themselves, is a role model. I will attend Ron's funeral and place a flower and a handful of dirt on his grave. Ron is on my very short list.

        Did anybody reading the above post put a flower on Kirk's grave, yet? How about Rockefeller's grave? Personally, I'd rather piss on it.

        I understand the difference between positive "drive" ( ambition i.e., internal drive to better oneself ) and negative ambition ( i.e., the anti-free market ambition to crush your competition by any ruthless means– including making "deals" with the "family" and/or the government mafia). I understand the difference between being a greedy, skirt-chasing, money junkie whose life is predicated on climbing to "the top" of a Vegas shit-pile and a free-market capitalist focused on value-for-value relationships..

        I concede that the aforementioned men in the above article had some inspiring attributes, including business acumen and creativity, but that's it. They weren't role models. I wouldn't even say those men were philanthropists in the truest sense of the Greek word, φιλανθρωπία, i.e., lover of humanity.

        Is Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal a "role model" because he's giving away 32 billion? Wake up! Carol! Some of those so called charitable foundations, which these billionaires are setting up, are nothing more than projections of power and a means to exert influence. Often, the ostensible reasons men set something up are nothing more than a pretext.

        • Rob Bonter says:

          Sounds like a tacit indictment of the Clintons.

          • RealitySeeker says:

            The Clintons are the quintessential hypocrites. They are to be counted as the most duplicitous scumbags in modern history. And I can't think of a better couple to be elected to the White House, because Americans should get the government they deserve.

            My 148 lb. American Akita has more upstairs than the average American. In fact, it is not hyperbole to say that most Americans are no better than than my dog. Americans, for example, have a preoccupation for chasing balls. Basket balls, golf balls, tennis balls, footballs, baseballs, you name it, and Americans are busy chasing it— just like my dog. Or worse— they pay to sit on their fat asses and watch somebody else chase a ball. At least my dog actually gets to chase a ball. I taught him to play by himself, so I don't have to waste time. The thing about my dog is that at least he doesn't go out of his mind at the thought of playing ball. Americans go totally out of their mind— what little minds they have— as they act like a ball is God. Yes, Americans worship their Ball God. Screaming, cheering, fighting, painting themselves up, et al. is the sign of assholes. There is no other way to put it. Ignorant assholes with less smarts than my American Akita.

            They get the government they deserve. Americans get the masters they deserve. They get the Clintons.

          • oscarwildeweenr says:

            true as that is, the biggest ball god of 'em all is old sol. my 30lb aussie shepherd, smarter than avg, would never chase that one. ☻

            clint, rising in the east (spaghetti westerns), setting in the west somewhere, wyoming maybe, as "william munny" will tell you: "deservin's got nothin' to do with it." oscar seconds the motion.

          • Robby Bonter says:

            As regards your disparagement of sports and sports fans, you fail to comprehend that many are involved in sports for ~business~ purposes. You own an NFL franchise, for example, you can write your own ticket, while employing literally thousands of people.

            Some people actually ~speculate~ on the outcome of these games, so that their primary interest is finding and investing in value, much more so than "rooting" for a desired outcome.

            Some entrepreneurs, like Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, have made a close to billion dollar fortune supplying gear to sports teams and the sporting crowd. Plank indirectly employs countless thousands of people who work in the factories which produce his goods.

            Sports also teaches young people values such as teamwork, sacrifice for the common good, a hard-driving work and conditioning ethic, along with the usage of natural intelligence as it applies to the strategy and tactics of besting your opponent and actually winning the competition, as testimony to the merit of your preparation and execution of winning principles.

            I pity all those who have not learned the valuable lessons becoming involved in athletics teaches young people, right through college. They are missing a dimension in life which no textbook approach to life can compensate for.

          • oscarwildeweenr says:

            "The NFL is running one of its own games on the public, and as one of the most subsidized non-profit organizations in American history, the NFL excels at tackling the American taxpayer. It should be of no surprise that with its religious-like following, the NFL receives the same tax-exempt status as a church, exempted under the IRS 501 (c) 6 code from paying federal taxes. The legislation puts the NFL as a non-profit trade association which it has been under since 1942." ~ snip

            does that qualify as "business"?

          • Rob Bonter says:

            I have to say that if this vindictive, savage woman is elected, countless people, including myself, will be running for cover, as far as possible. She will completely destroy what is left of people's freedoms and rights, and set all the machinery of bureaucratic government maliciously against her perceived enemies, starting with her conservative and God Fearing critics.

            No one who votes against this witch will be safe – I.R.S – F.B.I – E.P.A – ATF – local law enforcement, at her directive, they will be coming after and criminalizing the American people, starting with conservative white males across all economic levels, with frothing, rabid dog vengeance. It will be tyranny against decent people in this country like never before seen or imagined.

            I, truly, fear this woman, above all others in this nation, combined. I predict eight years of this hideous snake in the White House will be the end of this nation, beyond recognition, to its disintegration into a Fascist state. More Americans overseas will be arrested and incarcerated by foreign governments than ever before because the protection for our citizens abroad will not be there, in a "politically correct" default world.

      • oscarwildeweenr says:

        knew, eschewed, a guy once. his credo was “it’s not enough that I win; you must also lose.”

        “maximum overdrive” was a flick based on a king short story, “trucks”. ac/dc did the soundtrack.

        The thing about max overdrive(n) trannies is that the factory-installed virtue gear is a vanishingly rare option. & even when that hens-toothed gearset is in the mix, the overdrive® typically overdoes, that peak gear is beaked, & those chicklets wind up down in the pan sludge.

        A big ‘so what’ that would be if the transfer case inviolably compartmentalized the dentistry. But it doesn’t. compartments are an illusion. Overdrive(n) teeth are real. & for such as these, there’s never enough to eat. Hence fed reserve, ama, etc ad seemingly in finitum.

        Here’s tgd description

        • RealitySeeker says:

          lol….. I actually once owned that album, "Skeletons in the Closet". The Grateful Dead had a concert in Chicago on the Forth of July weekend. My son was up there for the weekend, and he complained how you couldn't even buy a slice of pizza without waiting 30 min in line on account of the fans ( i.e. worshipers) Are they "role models", too? Americans have to worship their guitar God, too, apparently.

          Ball Gods. Guitar Gods. Muscle-car Gods. Movie-star Gods. Wall Street Gods. Washington Gods. You name the God, and they worship, worship, worship…… What a life, eh? The "teeth" are about to get real busy chewing up and spitting out. Did you see all of those poor bastards in Greece lined up to get their money out of the banks? I watched a video of an old man bawling his eyes out in front of an empty ATM. The "teeth" had that old man by the ass.

          The real story is how time is running out for the EU, China, Japan and, yes, America……. Watch Greece closely, because that's what a collapse looks like.

          Oscar, you've known me now for six or seven years. Since we first met on "The Voice of Sanity TM" Seven years ago I said it was possible for a global collapse to occur at any time, but that it was more than likely that mankind would muddle through. Seven years ago I said that collapse was more than likely a decade away. I even had a disagreement and a brief exchange with RJR about the timing.

          Time has passed. And the time has come. The day is almost here. Get ready. I'm changing my Bayesian position on the odds of a Great Bond Collapse happening sooner rather than later. The odds are it happens sooner rather than later, which is a 180 change from my position seven years ago. Watch Greece. If the contagion spreads to the other PIGGS and then to France, get ready for the biggest shit-storm in our lifetime. Watch China. If China spins out of control, the shit-storm shall begin in Asia.

  10. RealitySeeker says:

    "Really, really…..REALLY ……LET DOWN".

    Don't be too disappointed. Nobody's perfect. Most men, including good men, make "hair-brained deal(s)" and have at least a few hair-brained opinions. Like the time RJR implied nuking Vietnam was an option— according to Senator Barry Goldwater—- and it's "better to have your enemies fear you" . Robert finally came to his senses and removed that preposterous post. But a few really, really dumb-ass opinions doesn't necessarily mean that the majority of RJR's work isn't sound and very much worth reading. It is….

  11. Robby Bonter says:

    Sorry this wonderful, informative site has become "Troll City" for Leftist cretins, who are surfacing everwhere now for the all-out blitz to discredit those who take a public stand in favor of our foundational, capitalistic values and freedoms – until they get that bitch warming her fat buns on Oval Office furniture.

    • Robby Bonter says:

      Or should I say "witch." Either way, we are headed down a path leading us all too swiftly toward "The Gestapo States of America." And this spiritually-vacuous woman is leading the charge over that cliff.

  12. J Sawkins says:

    I'm a little confused about the Robertson story. Did Krikorian get the idea to buy the Vegas property from Robertson and then cut him out of the deal or did he already know about it or did he let him in on the deal?

    • oscarwildeweenr says:

      yeah, wondered about that too. flashed on the fulcrum action in "fargo".

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      I have no proof one way or the other, but my impression was that Kerkorian had every base in LV already covered. Dale had nothing but kind things to say about him.