Sol Kerzner, South Africa’s most well-known casino and hotel magnate, has died at age 84.
Rumours of Kerzner’s death began early on Saturday, March 21, but journalist Mandy Wiener tweeted on the same afternoon that news of Kerzer’s death were ‘fake’, but the hospitality pioneer was ‘gravely ill’.
Sol Kerzner’s spokesperson says rumors that he has died are fake news. However he is gravely ill. The ‘Sun King’ is suffering from bone cancer and is in Cape Town.
— Mandy Wiener (@MandyWiener) March 21, 2020
Kerzner was surrounded by his family at his home at the Leeukoppie Estate.
Conflicting reports throughout Saturday claimed he was “gravely ill”, though had not yet passed away.
His close friend Ian Douglas said in a statement that Kerzner had maintained a massive business reputation but was always family-oriented.
“Sol was someone who possessed a rare combination of creative genius, uncanny financial acuity and an astonishing energy, which he poured into every business he touched. Nothing he built was ever boring and he never chased the money. He only chased success. He was always trailblazing, always in pursuit of bigger, better, new, different, more exacting and exciting projects around the globe,” said Douglas.
Kerzner’s daughter Andrea also said her father always had time for the family.
“Dad taught us family values, no matter how busy he was, he
The youngest of four children, Kerzner was born in Troyeville, Johannesburg to Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents owned and operated a chain of kosher hotels. Kerzner graduated with a degree in accounting and then took control of the family company. In 1962, he purchased the Astra Hotel in Durban. Following the success of that property, Kerzner built South Africa’s first five-star graded hotel in Umhlanga, a village north of Durban – he opened this resort in December 1964 which he named the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Following the Beverly Hills, Kerzner built the 450-room Elangeni Hotel (now renamed Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani), overlooking Durban’s beachfront and, in 1969, in partnership with South African Breweries, he established the chain of Southern Sun Hotels.
In 1979 Kerzner developed Sun City, arguably one of the most ambitious resort projects in Africa. Established in the former independent homeland of Bophuthatswana, over a period of ten years he built four hotels, a man-made lake, two Gary Player-designed championship golf courses and entertainment centre, with an indoor 6 000-seat multi-purpose arena in which he presented many superstars including Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Queen and Shirley Bassey and which was also the venue of many World Title fights.
During 1985, Kerzner’s Sun City, South Africa resort was the topic of anti-Apartheid rock album titled Sun City by a group of rock musicians calling themselves Artists United Against Apartheid.
According the the UK newspaper The Independent, “To outsiders it became ‘Sin City’. A monument to the worst excesses of apartheid years, it was targeted by anti-apartheid campaigners. But it made Kerzner ‘the richest man in Africa’ and earned him the nickname of the Sun King.”
In 1994, following the first multiracial elections in South Africa, Kerzner was asked by incoming President Nelson Mandela to arrange the VIP function at the Presidential Inauguration, which was attended by approximately a thousand people, including many of the world’s leaders and heads of state.
As a result of the success of the Sun City resort with its Gary Player Country Club golf course (ranked number 1 in South Africa) he got involved in international hotel, leisure and gambling resorts; most notable is his role as the innovative developer behind the well-known Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
According to Forbes, it’s hard to determine Sol Kerzner’s net worth due to his complex web of properties, consultancy fees, dividend income, tax havens, and public and private interests. According to celebritynetworth.com, he was estimated to be worth $600-million.
Kerzner was married four times. His first wife was Maureen Adler; they had three children: Butch Kerzner, Andrea Kerzner, and Beverly Kerzner Mace. His second wife was Shirley Bestbier; they had two children: Brandon Kerzner and Chantal Kerzner Sweeney. She later died from suicide soon after the birth of her second child. His third wife, was Miss World 1974, Anneline Kriel, from whom he divorced after five years. During a lengthy period in the 1990s, he dated the model Christina Estrada, got engaged, but never married her. He married his fourth wife, model Heather Murphy in 2000; they divorced in 2011.
Kerzner’s son, Howard ‘Butch’ Kerzner died on 11 October 2006 when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed near Sosua, in the Puerto Plata province of the Dominican Republic. His daughter, Andrea, is the founder and CEO of Lalela, a charity dedicated to bringing the arts to at-risk youth in South Africa.
Kerzner’s legacy in relation to politics is a complicated one. Having established his earlier casinos and resorts in the independent homelands at the time. Kerzner found himself under investigation for corruption in a case that began in 1987. Kerzner was accused of having paid R2-million to Chief George Matanzima in order to ensure exclusive casino rights in the then-Transkei Province. On 17 January 1989, after two years of investigations, Kerzner admitted in an affidavit to the Harms Commission that the allegations were in fact true. Kerzner had a reputation of being connected to both the apartheid government and later the ANC government.
In 1997, Kerzner successfully blocked a tell-book, ‘Kerzner Unauthorised’, by journalist Allan Greenblo, which accused him of corrupt dealings with the apartheid government, and of profiteering from apartheid policies. The book also reportedly went into details involving his messy divorce from former Miss World, Anneline Kriel.
In his book ‘They Shaped our Century: The Most Influential South Africans of the Twentieth Century’, writer Gus Silber asks, ‘How will Solomon “Sol” Kerzner best be remembered?’
Let’s roll the dice. He will not be remembered for creating jobs, opportunities, and development in impoverished quasi-independent homelands. He will not be remembered for his tireless ability to translate outrageous concepts into everyday working reality.
He will not be remembered for his short-lived marriage to Miss World 1974, or the string of sultry supermodels who took her place.
He will not be remembered for the worry beads that constantly clicked between his fingers as he worried and fretted and nit-picked his way through the pursuit of other people’s happiness.
Instead, he will be remembered as the man who first led the people of the Rainbow Nation towards their promised pot of gold. The man who built Sun City. The man who, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, forever changed the landscape of the South African dream.