Hotel magnate Barron Hilton, an original owner in the American Football League, died at his home in Los Angeles, his family announced Friday.
Hilton died Thursday of natural causes at age 91, the family run Conrad Hilton Foundation stated in a press release.
After serving in the Navy and pursuing other business opportunities, Hilton joined the family business in 1954, eventually becoming chairman, president and CEO of Hilton Hotels Corp.
In the late 1950s, he was approached by American Football League pioneers Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams about owning a franchise, and Hilton founded the Los Angeles Chargers in 1959. The team moved to San Diego after one season and appeared in five of the first six AFL title games, winning one.
Hilton sold controlling interest in the Chargers to Gene Klein in 1966 for $10 million.
The NFL paid tribute to Hilton on Friday.
“Simply put, the modern NFL would not be what it is today without the vision of Barron Hilton,” said Dean Spanos, who now owns the Chargers franchise. “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. ... It seems fitting that we celebrate a life extraordinarily well-lived the same year as we recognize the Chargers 60th anniversary season since without Barron, there would be no Chargers.”
The rival Oakland Raiders also remembered Hilton in a team statement.
“Hilton was instrumental in creating the American Football League and the Chargers, and he also played a large role in the history of the Raiders. His coaching staff of Sid Gillman, Al Davis, Chuck Noll, Joe Madro and Jack Faulkner is among the most legendary staffs ever assembled and he provided Al Davis with his first opportunity to coach at the professional level. The NFL would not be what it is today without his leadership and the Raiders family is saddened by his loss.”
—Field Level Media