Sam Zell (Photo: Getty Images)

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 died on Thursday. He was 81.

According to the Associated Press, Zell died at home due to complications from a recent illness, according to Equity Group Investments, a company he founded in 1968.

EGI put together a video of his legacy that you can watch below. 

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. It was the largest private equity transaction in history, and Zell personally netted $1 billion.

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.

Marguerite Nader, president and CEO of Equity Lifestyle Properties, noted “Sam leaves the real estate industry and the business community mourning the loss of a distinctive and generous mentor and an unparalleled leader who generously offered time and attention to develop those around him. He established an entrepreneurial culture focused on excellence, value creation, skilled and empowered teams and, most importantly, doing the right thing. He was a visionary who trusted his own sensibilities. Family was the cornerstone of Sam’s life. He will be missed as a husband, father, brother and grandfather.”

Consistent with the company’s long-standing succession plans, the Board of Directors named Thomas Heneghan to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Heneghan has served as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors since May 2018 and was Co-Vice Chairman from 2013 to 2018. Heneghan served as Chief Executive Officer of the company from January 2004 to February 2013.

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.

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