Majestic Star Owner Barden Dies

Don Barden, a prominent Detroit businessman involved in casinos, cable TV and real estate, has died, the mayor’s office said Thursday.

Barden had been sick for a few years, said Karen Dumas, a spokeswoman for Mayor Dave Bing. She had no other details on his death.

Barden’s wife, Bella Marshall, has said in court filings that he had cancer.

“Don was a stalwart leader and businessman in this community, as well as a friend,” Bing said in a statement. “We were aware of his longtime illness and dreaded this day. We send our condolences to his family.”

Barden made millions with cable TV franchises in Detroit and the suburbs, but lately the news about him was not flattering. Marshall went to court earlier this year in a dispute over this ability to manage his assets.

Barden’s company, Majestic Star, owns casinos in Las Vegas, Gary, Ind., Black Hawk, Colo., and Tunica, Miss., but the company has been trying to reorganize in bankruptcy court since 2009.

Barden grew up in Inkster, near Detroit. He dropped out of college in Ohio but stayed in Lorain, Ohio, working a series of jobs before opening a record shop at age 22. He started a weekly newspaper, bought real estate and became the first black on the Lorain City Council.

He rubbed elbows with the powerful, even teaching dance steps to President Bill Clinton following a state dinner with South Africa President Nelson Mandela 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,” Barden told The Associated Press in 1997 when he was pursuing a Detroit casino license.

Barden didn’t get a license and was bitter.

“I got screwed and the city got screwed,” he recalled in 2004.

The headquarters of his umbrella business, Barden Companies, is a prominent downtown building near Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers, and the Detroit Athletic Club where he was a member.