Meshulam Riklis, Israeli-American Billionaire and 'Corporate Takeover Artist,' Dies at 95

Former Wall Street tycoon and one of Forbes' wealthiest people worldwide of 1988, U.S.-based Riklis had sponsored former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon

File photo: Businessman Meshulam Riklis and his wife Tali Sinai, Tel Aviv, November 4, 2011.
Tomer Appelbaum

Meshulam Riklis, a former Wall Street tycoon and one of Forbes' wealthiest people worldwide in 1988, died on Friday in a Tel Aviv hospital at 95.

Called "perhaps the first corporate takeover artists" in the United States, Riklis had more than $1 billion in assets prior to several of his businesses going bankrupt in the early 1990s. One of the best-known was McCrory Corp., a chain of five-and-dime stores that was founded in 1882 and went bust in 1992 under Riklis. His critics accused him of gutting the firm and others, and of shifting around its wealth before terminating it.

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Born in Istanbul in 1923 to Russian immigrants en route to Palestine, he was raised in Tel Aviv and left for the United States in 1947, where he had since been based.

Riklis first worked at a Hebrew teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but started amassing wealth in the 1960s as the founder of an investment fund, which would be the start of a financial empire. Dubbed "Israeli wunderkind" as an up and coming businessman, Riklis had come to control a massive financial-industrial business group.

Riklis, who had been heavily criticized for not fighting with Israeli forces in the 1948 War of Independence, had given large donations to Israeli institutions, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Paratroopers Brigade House, and to Israeli politicians, among them former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In addition to producing the 1982 film “Butterfly” starring Zadora, Riklis financed “G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” a syndicated program featuring women professional wrestlers. It was the inspiration for the current scripted series “GLOW” on Netflix, a fictionalized account of Riklis’ creation, which ran from 1986 to 1990.

In a 2012 interview to Israeli journalist Amnon Levy, Riklis said he admired Sharon from his army years, and contacted him before he went into politics. According to Riklis, he agreed to fund Sharon's purchase of a farm in southern Israel "on one condition, that you dedicate yourself to Israel. I can't, but you will."

He was married three times, to Judith Stern, who he knew from Israel, to American actress and singer Pia Zadora and to Israeli Tali Sinai. He also took pride in having affairs with multiple women throughout the years. "Each one had her own house," he said in the same interview. "Each city we'd visit, there'd be one woman there that was mine."

"I've made it in life two areas: business and women," Riklis told Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview three years ago, "They say appetite comes with eating, and that is exactly what happened."

In his autobiography titled "$950 Million in 4 Minutes," he wrote: "I started buying businesses that got me beautiful young women. That's why I chose to take over casinos, hotels, night clubs, and women's high fashion, jewelry and diamond businesses."

"I gave in to glamor easily, and just like with girls – I did with planes," he added. "It started with a small private jet, went up to two bigger ones, then four even bigger ones… and then to five planes and two helicopters… I was on an ego trip. I couldn't stop."