LOS ANGELES – Billionaire Marvin Davis (search), a former oilman who sold his 20th Century Fox studios to Rupert Murdoch in the 1980s, died Saturday at his Beverly Hills home. He was 79.
Davis died surrounded by his family after a long illness, his publicist Allan Mayer said. The exact cause was not released.
Davis had also owned the Pebble Beach Co. and the Beverly Hills Hotel (search). Nicknamed "Mr. Wildcatter," he started his road to fortune in oil and gas exploration, later expanding into real estate and the entertainment industry.
Earlier this year, Davis's fortune was valued at $4.9 billion by Forbes magazine, where he placed 85th on the annual ranking of billionaires.
Davis bought 20th Century Fox (search) studios in 1981. In 1984, he recruited Barry Diller, then head of Paramount, to run the studio. The following year, he sold Fox to Murdoch and it is now part of the media mogul's News Corp.
After the sale, Davis built and twice sold the 20th Century Fox Plaza in Century City. The building became famous as the tower in the original "Die Hard" film.
Over the years, Davis made attempts to buy CBS, NBC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
In 2002, he made a last attempt to re-enter the entertainment business with an unsolicited offer to buy the entertainment assets of Vivendi Universal, including Universal Studios, for $15 billion. The offer was rejected.
Davis also tried to bring an NFL franchise back to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, but abandoned the bid because the league required his family to dispose of its gambling interests.
Born in 1925 in Newark, N.J., Davis graduated from New York University in 1947. After graduation, he joined his father in creating Davis Oil Co., a wildcat drilling operation that earned them billions of dollars.
In the 1980s, Davis and his family relocated from Denver to Beverly Hills, where he started a second career in real estate.
An avid golfer, Davis owned the Pebble Beach Co., a seaside California resort that included four of the country's best-known golf courses. He sold the company for $841 million in 1990 to a group of Japanese investors.
"I never fall in love with an asset, but that one came closest to it," Davis once said of Pebble Beach.
Davis also was a major philanthropist. He and his wife, Barbara, established the Children's Diabetes Foundation in 1977 after their daughter Dana was diagnosed with the disease. They hosted regular fund-raisers for the foundation.
Davis was also an active fund-raiser for Democratic candidates and counted among his friends former President Bill Clinton.
Davis is survived by his wife and five children.