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Home » Sam Zell, former owner of The Sun and Tribune Co., dies at age 81

Sam Zell, former owner of The Sun and Tribune Co., dies at age 81

by | May 20, 2023

Sam Zell, a Chicago real estate magnate and son of Holocaust survivors, passed away on May 18 at the age of 81. As the owner of the Baltimore Sun when he purchased Tribune, Zell left an indelible mark on the media landscape with his turbulent leveraged buyout in the early 2000s, which ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the Tribune media company.

According to an obituary in The Times of Israel, prior to his acquisition of the Tribune Co. in 2007, Zell had earned a reputation for his exceptional ability to revive struggling businesses. He notably built and sold an office-tower company to the Blackstone Group for a staggering $39 billion. Beyond real estate, his investment ventures encompassed diverse industries such as manufacturing, travel, retail, healthcare, and energy. Zell played a pioneering role in popularizing the use of REITs (real estate investment trusts), which traded like stocks on major exchanges.

However, Zell’s once-golden touch seemed to fade when he took ownership of the Tribune company, inheriting an extensive portfolio that included television stations, the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and prominent newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. According to the obituary, the company struggled under Zell’s leadership, leading him to famously describe it as the “deal from hell.” Eventually, the Tribune company filed for bankruptcy in December 2008, just a year after Zell had taken it private through a highly leveraged $8.2 billion deal. While the media industry was already experiencing declining fortunes at the time, Zell’s personal decisions and the heavy debt burden placed on the company were widely criticized for its ultimate failure.

More in the Times of Israel obituary
Photo: The Jerusalem Post

About the Author

Jeffrey Davis

Jeffrey A. Davis, APR has more than 25 years of news media and national public relations experience and heads J. Davis Public Relations, LLC, a PR and social media consultancy. A three-time PRSA Maryland president, he serves as Maryland regional editor for the Capitol Communicator and is co-founder of Podville Media in D.C. where he co-hosted the "Practically Social" podcast. Jeff is the regional representative of the national Public Relations Consultants Group (PRCG). He began his career as a reporter at daily newspapers in Ohio, New Jersey and at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.

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