Don Barden, 67, a prominent Detroit businessman who sold vegetables from the road as a child before making millions in casinos, cable TV, and real estate, died Thursday from complications of lung cancer.
"Don was a stalwart leader and businessman in this community, as well as a friend," Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement. "We were aware of his longtime illness and dreaded this day."
Mr. Barden made millions with cable-TV franchises in Detroit and the suburbs, but lately the news about him was not flattering. His wife, Bella Marshall, went to court earlier this year in a dispute over this ability to manage his assets.
His Majestic Star Casino opened in 1996 in Gary, Ind. A year later, Mr. Barden launched a $50 million, three-deck gambling vessel to replace the Gary casino, according to spokeswoman Darci McConnell.
Mr. Barden's Majestic Star Casino L.L.C. owns casinos in Las Vegas; Gary; Black Hawk, Colo.; and Tunica, Miss., but the company has been trying to reorganize in bankruptcy court since 2009.
Mr. Barden grew up in Inkster, Mich., where he sold vegetables from the family farm. He dropped out of college in Ohio but stayed in Lorain, Ohio, for 20 years, working a series of jobs before opening a record shop at age 22. He started a weekly newspaper, the Lorain County Times, bought real estate, and became the first black member of the Lorain City Council.
Mr. Barden hosted a weekly TV show at the NBC affiliate in Cleveland and owned five radio stations in Illinois in the 1990s.
"I'm on a mission to prove that a poor, young African American from a very large family, from humble beginnings, can rise to the top in America in a free-enterprise system," Mr. Barden said in 1997 when he was unsuccessfully pursuing a Detroit casino license.
In 2010, Black Enterprise ranked Barden Cos. number 10 in the top 100 grossing black-owned business with profits of $405 million. Mr. Barden was named that year with the business magazine's lifetime-achievement award.