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Founder of Sun International and Kerzner International, Sol Kerzner, died Saturday of cancer at the Kerzner family home in Cape Town, South Africa. He was 84.
Kerzner redefined the scale and scope of integrated destination resorts, as seen with his Atlantis developments. He also lifted the bar of luxury resorts with the audaciously named One & Only Resorts brand.
In his career spanning six decades, Kerzner established at least 80 hotel and casino properties in more than 12 countries. His most monumental achievement was the creation of Sun City in an area north of Johannesburg where there were no roads and no infrastructure. The project started in 1975 and over the next 10 years built four hotels, a manmade lake, two Gary Player golf courses, and an entertainment center with an indoor 6,000-seat arena. Sun City was the subject in 1985 of an anti-apartheid rock song by Little Steven van Zandt. Over Kerzner would become friends with Nelson Mandela.
From his earliest hotels, Kerzner was guided by a single driving imperative: “Blow away the customer,” according to a press statement. When scouting for locations around Durban, or later in Mauritius or the Bahamas, if he was not “blown away” by the location, he would move on and find another stretch of beach to build the hotel and resort.
“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 Ian Douglas, a friend and employee at Kerzner’s various companies for 20 years.
In 1994, Kerzner made his first major acquisition outside Africa, The Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas, and transformed the bankrupt property into the first Atlantis, a 2,300-room resort that included one of the world’s largest manmade marine habitats and the Caribbean’s biggest casino. The brand has expanded globally with Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai, and the third Atlantis resort on China’s Hainan Island, owned and managed by Fosun Tourism Group.
Sol worked closely with his son, Butch, to build their first casino resort property in the U.S., The Mohegan Sun, and to launch One&Only Resorts, which today has luxury properties in The Bahamas, Mexico, Mauritius, The Maldives, South Africa and Dubai, among others.
In 2006, Butch Kerzner was tragically killed in a helicopter accident while scouting for sites in the Dominican Republic. Sol, who was by then executive chairman of Kerzner International, decided to return to the role of CEO. He retired in 2014 as chairman of the company.
“Sol believed that no matter where you come from, if you put in the hours, you would succeed. He never used his circumstances or the tragedies he experienced in his life as an excuse for failure. If tragedy was a burden to Sol, hard work was the antidote and he himself always said, ‘you just gotta box on,’” said Jeff Rubenstein, a lifelong friend, in the statement.
Kerzner is survived by his children Andrea, Beverley, Brandon, and Chantal, and 10 grandchildren.