Barron Hilton, the hotelier and philanthropist who chaired the Hilton hotel chain, died on Thursday in Los Angeles of natural causes at the age of 91, it was announced Friday.
Hilton took over Hilton Hotels Corporation as president and CEO in 1966 after succeeding his father, Conrad Hilton, who founded the hotel empire. Barron Hilton was also a founding owner of the now-Los Angeles Chargers NFL football team.
Hilton Hotels said in a statement that "today the world of hospitality mourns for one of the greats."
"Barron Hilton was an incredible family man, business leader and philanthropist. From his leadership of our company for more than three decades to the transformative work he led with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for many years, Barron was a man unlike any other," Hilton Hotels' current president and CEO, Christopher J. Nassetta, said in a statement.
"I always found inspiration in how he saw the tremendous potential of hospitality to change the world for the better — and in the unique and meaningful ways he sought to make that happen," Nassetta said.
Hilton retired in 1996, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation said in an obituary, and in 2007 he announced that he was committing 97% of his wealth to philanthropic work through the Hilton Foundation. That gift is expected to grow the foundation's endowment from $2.9 billion to $6.3 billion, the foundation said.
Hilton was born in Dallas in 1927, he served in the Navy, and he was an entrepreneur for 20 years before being invited by his father to join the hotel corporation to become vice president in 1954, according to the foundation.
Hilton's wife, Marilyn, died in 2004 and he is survived by eight children, 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, the foundation said.
His granddaughter Paris Hilton, the heiress, actress and reality television star, tweeted Friday that she recently told him what an impact he had on her life, and called him her mentor. "He was a Legend, a visionary, brilliant, handsome, kind and lived a life full of accomplishment and adventure," she wrote. Ever since I was a little girl I have looked up to him as a businessman."
Dean Spanos, owner of the Chargers football team, in a statement called Hilton a pioneering leader and philanthropist who is directly responsible for the team's existence today.
"A founding father and charter member of the upstart AFL's sarcastically self-dubbed 'Foolish Club,' Barron was a pioneering leader, risk-taking entrepreneur, prolific philanthropist, devoted family man and, of course, anything but foolish," Spanos said, referring to the former American Football League, which would eventually become today's NFL American Football Conference.
"Without Barron, there would be no Chargers," Spanos said, and he said his family and the entire Chargers organization expressed their gratitude and condolences to the Hilton family.
The Chargers played in Los Angeles in 1960 but moved to San Diego the next year, and Hilton sold the team in 1966, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Spanos in early 2017moved the team back to Los Angeles.