Sam Zell, a Chicago real estate magnate who earned a multibillion-dollar fortune and a reputation as “the grave dancer” for his ability to revive moribund properties has died due to complications from a recent illness. He was 81.
Bearded and blunt-spoken, Zell reveled in bucking traditional wisdom. He had a golden touch with real estate, and got his start managing apartment buildings as a college student. By the time he reached his 70s, he had amassed a fortune estimated at $3.8 billion.
Zell sold Equity Office, the office-tower company he spent three decades building, to Blackstone Group for $39 billion in 2007.
A month later, he made another deal that ultimately tarnished his image: the acquisition of the ailing Tribune Co. for $13 billion. The media giant filed for bankruptcy the following year.
“Sam Zell was a self-made, visionary entrepreneur. He launched and grew hundreds of companies during his 60-plus-year career and created countless jobs. Although his investments spanned industries across the globe, he was most widely recognized for his critical role in creating the modern real estate investment trust, which today is a more than $4 trillion industry,” Equity Group Investments said in a written statement on Thursday.
Zell died at home, the company said.
Zell is survived by his wife, Helen; his sister Julie Baskes and her husband, Roger Baskes; his sister Leah Zell; his three children, Kellie Zell and son-in-law Scott Peppet, Matthew Zell, and JoAnn Zell; and his nine grandchildren.