Sam Zell, Who Acquired Tribune in Controversial Deal, Has Died

Sam Zell, Chicago real estate titan who acquired Tribune Co. in 2007, died May 18. He was 81. The cause of death was related to complications from a recent illness. 

Zell sold office tower company Equity Office to Blackstone Group for $39 billion in 2007, according to the AP, which called it the largest private equity transaction in history. He acquired Tribune Co. for $8.2 billion in December 2007 and became chairman. Zell offered $34 a share and took the company private under an employee stock-ownership plan. He put up just $315 million for the acquisition, and the employee-owners were saddled with $13 billion in debt. 

The media giant, which had TV stations, including WGN Chicago and WPIX New York; newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times; and the Chicago Cubs in its portfolio, filed for bankruptcy a year later, and climbed out of it at the end of 2012, retaining half of its former value. 

The New York Times called Zell’s acquisition “a resounding failure, a five-year descent into a maelstrom of rancor, downsizing, management scandals and bankruptcy.”

Zell was born in Highland Park, Illinois in 1941. His father was a jeweler with some real estate holdings. He studied at the University of Michigan, where he managed the building he lived in, the AP reported, and began managing other properties as well. 

He later owned stakes in the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. 

Zell was a motorcycle aficionado who rode with a group of pals that called themselves Zell’s Angels. He is survived by his wife Helen. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.