NEW YORK — Metromedia Co. Chairman John Werner Kluge is worth an estimated $5.2 billion, but he had to back into first place on Forbes magazine's annual list of the 400 richest Americans.
Kluge displaced Sam Walton, head of the Wal-Mart stores discount chain, who divvied his $9-billion fortune among himself and his four children and ended a four-year reign as Forbes' wealthiest person.
Four Orange County moguls made this year's list, with Irvine Co. chairman Donald L. Bren and his $1.85 billion fortune leading the way at No. 19. William Lyon, Richard J. O'Neill, and George L. Argyros rounded out the list of county kingpins, all of whom made their money in real estate development.
Among other notables on the list, developer Donald J. Trump compounded his already considerable fortune and financiers Michael Milken and Carl C. Icahn joined the billionaires club.
Overall, Forbes' richest are worth an estimated total of about $269 billion, up nearly $50 billion from the previous year, a 22% increase that substantially outpaced last year's 4.4% inflation rate.
By comparison, the total wealth of the richest would come just short of bailing out the nation's failed savings and loans over the next 30 years, the cost of which was estimated by Congress at $285 billion.
The list, released Monday, appears in the Oct. 23 edition of Forbes and is based on estimated holdings as of Sept. 8.
The prototypical member of Forbes' ultrarich was a 63-year-old male with 3.1 children who has been married 1.4 times with a net worth of $672 million last year, more than the gross national product of Lesotho, Forbes stated.
For the richest, the last year has been a very good one. Many of the wealthy rebounded nicely from the October, 1987, stock market crash.
The number of billionaires increased to 66 from 51. The minimum net worth to make the list rose to $275 million from $225 million.
All four Orange County men on the Forbes list are repeats from last year. The local roster lost one entry when Harry H. Hoiles--heir to the Freedom Newspapers fortune and estimated to be worth $400 million this year--moved from Santa Ana to Phoenix. The county also didn't get credit for California Angels baseball team owner Gene Autry, who lists his residence as Los Angeles.
Manufacturing was the most used route to success for the Forbes 400, accounting for 80 listings. Real estate, the preferred method for getting rich in Orange County, was second with 77 entries.
One of the county's leading developers, the Segerstrom family, again made Forbes's list of America's wealthiest families with a fortune estimated at well over $500 million. C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, headed by Henry Segerstrom, owns South Coast Plaza and has developed much of the surrounding area.
At the pinnacle of the Forbes 400 was Kluge, 75, of Charlottesville, Va., whose holdings rose an estimated $2 billion from last year, thanks to a tripling in the value of his holdings in cellular telephones, Forbes said.
Kluge moved up from the No. 2 spot. The magazine noted that "klug" in German means smart.
For Walton, charity began at home. The 71-year-old from Bentonville, Ark., who milked cows during the Depression to support his family, split his Wal-Mart and other assets equally with his four children. While the family's total holdings increased to $9 billion from $6.7 billion, the individual family members tied for 20th on the list.
Moving up to second from 12th place was investor Warren Buffett, 59, of Omaha, Neb., the head of Berkshire Hathaway whose stock market-based fortune nearly doubled to $4.2 billion. Behind him was Sumner Murray Redstone, head of National Amusements Inc. and entertainment giant Viacom, with $2.88 billion.
America has more billionaires than any other nation--Japan is second with 41--but the richest of the rich live abroad.
Kluge's fortune makes him the ninth-wealthiest private individual in the world, according to Forbes. He is topped by six Japanese, a South Korean and Canadian publisher Kenneth Roy Thompson. Japan's Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, who made his money in land, railroads and resorts, is worth about $15 billion, Forbes said.
Eighteen new billionaires joined the Forbes American list, including Laurence and Robert Tisch of Loews Corp. at $1.36 billion apiece; entertainment mogul Kirk Kerkorian at $1.29 billion; indicted junk bond financier Milken at $1.27 billion, and TWA boss Icahn at $1.2 billion.
Trump also was among the individual standouts, adding $700 million to his empire of hotels, casinos and an airline for a $1.7-billion total.
For the second straight year, the youngest self-made billionaire was 33-year-old William Henry Gates III at $1.25 billion. Gates dropped out of Harvard University to found Microsoft in 1972.
St. Louis beer and baseball magnate August Anheuser Busch Jr., who died on Sept. 29 at age 90, was included on the list with $1.5 billion. Forbes said it compiled its profiles before the death.