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Fred Benninger, 86; Was a Top MGM Executive and Las Vegas Hotelier

March 04, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Fred Benninger, a top executive for financier Kirk Kerkorian's MGM studios in Los Angeles and resort hotels in Las Vegas, has died. He was 86.

Benninger died Sunday of unspecified causes at his home in Las Vegas.

Benninger had worked for Kerkorian since 1967; both men were rooted in the airline industry.

The company names changed over the decades -- International Leisure Co., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, MGM Grand Hotel, Tracinda Corp., MGM Grand Inc., MGM/UA Entertainment Co., MGM Mirage. But the relationship remained steady -- Kerkorian as financier, owner and developer; Benninger as president, chairman or chief executive in charge of operations.

Both men were pilots during World War II, and Kerkorian once owned the charter Trans International Airlines. Benninger was general manager and executive vice president of Flying Tiger Airlines from 1946 to 1967. During his work for Kerkorian, he also served from 1972 to 1978 as chairman of Western Airlines.

Benninger oversaw construction of Kerkorian's International Hotel, now the Las Vegas Hilton, in 1971, renovation of the Flamingo, and construction of the original MGM Grand Hotel (now Bally's) in Las Vegas. Named for MGM Studios' 1932 movie "Grand Hotel," it was the largest resort hotel in the world at its 1973 opening, with 2,084 rooms.

After a fire there in 1980 killed 87 people, Benninger helped Kerkorian rebuild and reopen, personally reassuring stockholders and answering the news media's questions through a difficult period. Kerkorian sold the hotel to Bally's in 1986.

Benninger also headed creation of Kerkorian's subsequent 5,000-room MGM Grand Hotel and theme park, which opened in 1993.

Born in Gunsberg, Germany, Benninger came to the U.S. when he was 11, attended New York University and graduated cum laude from USC. He began his career with the accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co.

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

Services are private. The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Nevada Cancer Institute, c/o Jennifer Haley, 10000 W. Charleston Blvd. Suite 260, Las Vegas, NV 89135.

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