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Chris Jones

Longtime MGM Executive Fred Benninger, 86, Dies

2 March 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Fred Benninger, who with longtime friend and business partner Kirk Kerkorian developed notable Nevada resorts including the International and a pair of MGM Grand properties, died Sunday at his Las Vegas home. He was 86.

A successful businessman whose professional history included stints with the U.S. Army Air Forces, Western Airlines and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer film studios, Benninger's career highlights also include multiple contributions to the state's resort industry.

"I don't know anyone with the breadth of experience in different industries and the success that Fred enjoyed in his long career," Terry Lanni, chairman and chief executive officer of MGM Mirage, said Monday. "We're going to miss a great leader in our company. ... The man knew every aspect of our business."

Benninger met Kerkorian through their shared roles as airline executives, and in 1967 the men formed the International Leisure Corp., which subsequently purchased Las Vegas' Flamingo hotel-casino. The company later built The International (now known as the Las Vegas Hilton) before it sold that property to Hilton Hotels Corp. in 1971.

Kerkorian next purchased the MGM Film Co. and appointed Benninger as its 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).

In 1982, Benninger retired from MGM Grand Hotels but quickly accepted a new role as chairman of Tracinda Corp., a private company owned by Kerkorian. Benninger returned to MGM in 1986 and served as its chief executive officer until 1991; he was board chairman until Lanni arrived in 1995 but continued to serve as a board member until his death.

Las Vegas' current MGM Grand, located about one mile south of Bally's at the northeast corner of the Strip and Tropicana Avenue, opened in December 1993.

Benninger was born in 1917 in Gunsburg, Germany. Shortly after his father's business was wiped out during the post-World War I economic depression of the 1920s, Benninger's family moved to New York City, where he worked as a shoeshine boy to provide additional money for his family.

More than six decades after those humble beginnings, Benninger hadn't lost the appreciation for hard work he developed in his early years.

"I used to stand outside of a restaurant that had a sign in the window that said `All you can eat for 75 cents.' But the question was could you afford the 75 cents," Benninger told the Review-Journal in 1982, just before he first stepped down as chairman of MGM Grand's board of directors.

"I never wanted to be the richest man in the world," he added. "You reach a point where you can wear so many suits, eat in so many restaurants, buy so many things. All that's left is self-satisfaction in doing a good job. I think that comes from early training."

Benninger is survived by his wife of 58 years, Esther, and their two children, Tom and Christine.

Services will be private, though a memorial will be scheduled at a later date.

The family requests donations be sent to Jennifer Haley at the Nevada Cancer Institute, 10000 W. Charleston Blvd., suite 260, Las Vegas, NV 89135.