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Real estate billionaire Sam Zell dies at 81

Billionaire real estate tycoon Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, has died at age 81, the firm announced Friday.

CHICAGO – Real estate icon and billionaire Sam Zell has died at 81, his firm Equity Group Investments announced Thursday.

‘It is with great sadness that we announce that Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, Equity LifeStyle Properties, Equity Residential, and Equity Commonwealth, died today at home due to complications from a recent illness,” the company said in a news release. “The family of Equity companies mourns his loss.”

Zell is widely recognized as one of the founding fathers of the modern real estate investment trust (REIT) industry, which is currently valued at more than $4 trillion, according to the release.

He began his real estate career managing student housing apartments while a student at the University of Michigan in the 1960s. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree, and later earned his law degree from the school in 1966.

In 1968, Zell founded Equity Group Investments, a private investment firm based in Chicago. After leading the firm to real estate successes throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Zell founded Equity Residential, one of the largest apartment REITS, as well as Equity LifeStyle Properties, a manufactured home community and resort REIT.

Zell also founded Equity Office Properties Trust, which was the first REIT in the S&P 500 and was the largest office building owner in the U.S.

Zell had amassed a fortune estimated at $3.8 billion by the time he reached his 70s, according to the Associated Press.

“Sam Zell was a self-made, visionary entrepreneur,” EGI said in its release. “He launched and grew hundreds of companies during his 60-plus-year career and created countless jobs.”

Zell is survived by his wife, Helen; his sisters, Julie and Leah; his three children, Kelli, Matthew, and JoAnn; and his nine grandchildren.

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