Inspiration for Gordon Gekko Dies

Rogue trader Ivan Boesky was 87
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2024 1:22 PM CDT
Inspiration for Gordon Gekko Dies
Ivan Boesky, center, leaves federal court in New York, April 24, 1987, after pleading guilty to one count of violating federal securities laws.   (AP Photo/G. Paul Burnett, File)

Financier Ivan Boesky, who died Monday, was at the center of an insider-trading scandal in the 1980s but he may be best remembered for the movie character he partly inspired: Gordon Gekko, the villain in Wall Street. "Greed is all right, by the way," Boesky said in a 1986 commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley. "I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself." His remarks were echoed in Gekko's famous "greed is good" speech."

  • Boesky, who often worked 18-hour days, made his fortune "betting on stock tips, often passed to him illegally in exchange for suitcases of cash," the New York Times reports. He "brought an aggressive style to the once-sleepy world of arbitrage, the buying and selling of stocks in companies that appear to be takeover targets," per the Times. His nicknames included "Piggy" and "Ivan the Terrible."

  • At his mid-'80s peak of his career, Boesky was worth the equivalent of more than $800 million in today's money and had a famously lavish lifestyle. His downfall came as then-US Attorney Rudy Giuliani cracked down on financial crime. In 1986, as investigators closed in, Boesky agreed to cooperate and wore a wire in meetings with "junk bond king" Michael Milken, among others. He served two years of a three-year sentence and was fined $100 million.
  • Prosecutors said Boesky provided the most inside information about securities violations since hearings 50 years earlier, the AP reports. After learning he had been implicated in the scandal, trader John Mulheren Jr. reportedly set out to kill Boesky and was arrested en route. At Mulheren's trial, his lawyer said: "If there ever was a person to whom the title Prince of Darkness could be applied, Ivan Boesky is that man." He described Boesky as the "king of greed, a person who stood for nothing except his own ambition, his own greed."
  • The Washington Post compares Boesky to a "latter-day Gatsby" who "obscured his real background—a college dropout whose father ran a topless bar in Detroit." In 1962, he married Seema Silberstein, daughter of a real-estate magnate. Her family helped him get a foothold on Wall Street. After his release from prison, he was awarded $20 million in cash and $180,000 a year in alimony in a divorce settlement, the AP reports. He later remarried and "lived quietly in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego," per the Times.
(More obituary stories.)

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