Billionaire John Kluge died at the age of 95. He was a media mogul with a Citizen Kane-style back story, only without the flamboyance of the movie character played by Orson Welles. Kluge had the appetite to make gobs of money, but he flew under the radar…He was critical of celebrity CEOs who got their photos on the cover of magazines.
German-born, Kluge moved to the United States after his father died in World War I. As a young man, he went to work for his stepfather. A life-long gambler and risk-taker, he reportedly said that he was motivated by a fear of being a charity case.
In 1986, he was listed by Forbes magazine as the second richest man in America. Three years later, he still held second place behind Sam Walton and ahead of H. Ross Perot.
Kluge epitomized the F. Scott Fitzgerald observation that the rich aren’t like the rest of us. I remember thinking that when he bought a mansion on Premium Point in New Rochelle, one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the country. My memory is hazy on this, but I seem to recall that he bought a neighboring house for the purpose of tearing down in order to expand his property.
In any case, he could afford to do stuff like that.
By 2008, he had dropped to 109 on the Forbes list after Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale restaurant chains he owned, went into bankruptcy. I actually got food poison at a Bennnigan’s in Oklahoma City in 2001, so its financial failure did not surprise me.