DETROIT — Don Barden, 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. He was 67.
Barden died from complications of lung cancer, two days after he was admitted to Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, according to Barden Companies.
“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.”
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.
Barden’s Majestic Star Casino LLC 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, 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.
Barden hosted a weekly TV show at the NBC affiliate in Cleveland and owned five radio stations in Illinois in the 1990s.
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 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.