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PASSINGS: Joel Murray, Linda Day Varnum

Joel Murray dies at 69, entrepreneur built Midwest regional airline; Linda Day Varnum dies at 71, Emmy-nominated TV director in 1980s, '90s

October 31, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Joel Murray, 69, an entrepreneur who took a tiny airline that operated a handful of flights in the Midwest and built it into a competitive regional carrier that was bought in 1988 by the parent of American Airlines, died of congestive heart failure Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his brother and former business partner, Marvin.

A flamboyant and outspoken man, Murray already had established himself as a successful criminal defense attorney and investor in Chicago when he put about $200,000 into Simmons Airlines.

At the time, around 1980, Simmons flew between Detroit and towns in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, taking in less than $1 million a year. Murray and his brother took over management, adding routes and planes through the decade, and Simmons became part of American Airlines' American Eagle feeder system.

When Simmons was sold to Dallas-based AMR Corp. in 1988, it flew almost 40 planes to nearly 40 destinations around the Midwest. The selling price was $78 million.

Born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1940, Murray served in the Marine Corps and then attended the University of Wisconsin, where he earned bachelor's and law degrees. He earned a master's degree in criminal law at Northwestern University.

In 1979, he gave up his law practice to become a full-time entrepreneur.

After selling Simmons, Murray split his time between homes in Chicago and Los Angeles, where he was a musical theater producer.


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