Meshulam Riklis, Businessman Involved in Pia Zadora Golden Globes Scandal, Dies at 95

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Meshulam Riklis and Pia Zadora at Spago in 1983

He and his then-wife bought the fabled Pickfair mansion from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, then tore most of it down.

Meshulam Riklis, the wealthy Israeli businessman who was involved in an infamous Golden Globes scandal with his then-wife, actress Pia Zadora, died Friday at a Tel Aviv hospital, his family announced. He was 95.

Riklis, then a part-owner of the Riviera in Las Vegas, invited members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who hand out the Globes each year, for a night of fun at his hotel and casino in November 1981. 

Zadora, whom he had married in 1977, had just completed work portraying a nymphet who tries to seduce her father (Stacy Keach) in Butterfly, an independent drama based on a James M. Cain novel. (Riklis also was a producer on the film.)

Several weeks later, Riklis hosted a handful of HFPA voters at his Beverly Hills mansion for lunch and a private screening of Butterfly. In January 1982, Zadora won a Golden Globe for "new star of the year in a motion picture," even though the movie had yet to open in the U.S.

Riklis admitted to wining and dining members of the HFPA, and the insinuation that he bought off the voting members has long haunted the organization and its reputation.

"Other people take the judges out to fancy restaurants — what’s the big deal?” Riklis said in an interview with People magazine about a month after the Globes.

"When Rik told me the press claims we bought off the judges, I felt so bad that I was sorry I won," Zadora said in the article. (In 2015, she defended her victory in an interview with Seth Abramovitch of The Hollywood Reporter.)

In 1988, Riklis and Zadora bought Pickfair — the mansion that was once the home of legendary actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford — from late Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, then tore most of it down.

Born in Istanbul in 1923 and raised in Tel Aviv, Riklis moved to the U.S. in 1947 with his first wife, Judith Stern. He studied mathematics at Ohio State University and taught Hebrew on the side, then returned to earn his masters in finance from the school.

After working as a stock analyst for Minneapolis investment firm Piper Jaffray in the 1950s, Riklis emerged as the originator of high-yield bonds and leveraged buyouts as a way to take control of major companies, followed by paper switches of assets into those firms.

He helped start Carnival Cruise Lines in the 1970s with schoolmate Ted Arison, and his portfolio over the years included holdings in Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, Faberge, RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres and Samsonite.

After founding Riklis Family Corp., a conglomerate of retail businesses, in the 1980s, he was listed on Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. He proclaimed that he was a billionaire in a 1986 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Riklis, then 49, met Zadora in 1973 when he snuck backstage to congratulate the 19-year-old actress on her performance in a touring production of the musical Applause. They divorced in 1993, and he filed for bankruptcy protection several times in the 1990s. Still wealthy, he returned to Israel.

In 2010, Riklis married Israeli former dancer and socialite Tali Sinai, who starred that year on the first season of Meusharot, the local version of reality TV franchise The Real Housewives, alongside her new husband.

She survives him, as do two children from his first marriage, Marcia and Ira, and two from his marriage to Zadora, Kady and Kristofer. Another daughter, Mona Ackerman, a former advice columnist for the Huffington Post, died in 2012.