John Kluge, a billionaire entrepreneur and pioneer in independent television-station ownership whose Metromedia Inc. stations formed the basis for News Corp.'s Fox network, has died. He was 95.
Kluge died Tuesday at his home in Albemarle County, Va., said University of Virginia spokeswoman Marian Anderfuren, who gave no cause of death. Kluge donated more than $63 million to the university during his lifetime, including his Albemarle estate, which was valued at more than $45 million in 2001.
Using a programming strategy of rerunning network situation comedies and low-budget movies, Kluge turned Metromedia into the nation's largest independent television business. The sale of Metromedia's stations to Rupert Murdoch for about $2 billion in the 1980s vaulted Kluge into the ranks of America's wealthiest.
Kluge (pronounced KLOO-gee) invested in cellular licenses, laundromats, hotels, the Foster & Kleiser billboard company, the Orion Pictures film studio, the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and the Ice Capades, as well as restaurants.
His privately held Metromedia owned the Bennigan's and Steak and Ale restaurant chains, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008. Its other chains are Bonanza Steakhouse and Ponderosa Steakhouse.
Forbes magazine ranked Kluge as the 109th richest American in 2010, estimating his net worth at $6.5 billion.
"My whole thrust has always been going into a business that I would like," Kluge told Forbes in a rare interview in 1990.
"Young entrepreneurs should spend an awful lot of time thinking about what they want to go into," he said. "The last thing you want to do, unless it's a very unusual situation, is to invest money. You should have a fund of knowledge of something and out of that you make up your mind. Money is not a fund of knowledge."
In 2007, Kluge pledged a $400-million donation to his alma mater, Columbia University in New York City, designated for financial aid to students. The gift was the largest in Columbia's history and, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the largest ever to be earmarked exclusively to help students afford tuition.
His other philanthropic donations included a $60-million gift in 2000 to the Library of Congress to fund a study center and an award for achievement in human sciences.
John Werner Kluge was born Sept. 21, 1914, in Chemnitz, Germany. He moved with his mother and stepfather to the United States as a child and lived in a poor Detroit neighborhood. He received a scholarship to Columbia, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics.
Kluge served in Army intelligence during World War II and worked as a paper goods salesman before buying his first AM radio station in Silver Spring, Md., in 1946.
His investment strategy was simple: Buy cheap properties and include only those that might increase in value under his management; then sell. He entered television by buying the old Dumont Broadcasting network in 1959 after it was too late to break into network television. The new Metropolitan Broadcasting Co. was later renamed Metromedia. Its Los Angeles outlets included KTTV-TV Channel 11 and the radio stations KLAC-AM (570) and KMET-FM (94.7).
Kluge achieved his greatest success in television by buying the syndication rights to the television program "MASH" and giving his network rivals a ratings challenge.
Divorced three times, his fourth marriage was to Maria Tussi Kuttner Kluge. Other survivors include three children.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun