CHICAGO – Restaurateur Arnold "Arnie" Morton (search), who founded the chain of steakhouses that bear his name and helped launch the first Playboy Club and the annual Taste of Chicago food festival, has died at the age of 83.
Morton, who suffered from Alzheimer's (search) disease and cancer, died Saturday at a nursing home in Deerfield, his family said.
"He's a restaurant legend," said Grant DePorter, president of Harry Caray's Restaurant (search) in Chicago. "A lot of restaurateurs in the Chicago area started with Arnie."
Morton's first restaurant, the Walton Walk, opened in the 1950s and paved the way for his partnership with Hugh Hefner (search), Victor Lownes and the Playboy Club they opened in 1960.
"They were the inspiration for a lot of what has come about since then, in trying to combine excellent food and beverages with the wonderful entertainment aspect," said Playboy Entertainment Chairwoman and CEO Christine Hefner.
He left Playboy in the early 1970s and ran several nightspots, then opened his first Morton's steakhouse in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood in 1978.
That first Morton's initially struggled, said former partner Klaus Fritsch.
"Then one night, Frank Sinatra came in after a concert, the press found out about it, and the place went up like a rocket," Fritsch said.
Morton sold his steakhouses in the late 1980s and there are now 65 of them around the world.
In 1980, Morton joined several other restaurant owners and then-Mayor Jane Byrne for the first Taste of Chicago, the summer food festival that now attracts hundreds of thousands of people.
"He was a trailblazing entrepreneur and a great Chicagoan," said Mayor Richard Daley. "He'll be missed."
Morton is survived by his wife, four daughters, two sons, a brother and 13 grandchildren.