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Pezim also learned the ways of the streets in Toronto. He was attacked regularly. "Being beaten up," he says, "teaches you to smarten up and become better." So he got a section of pipe, beat the tar out of a tormentor and was never bothered again.
Working in the meat market, Pezim diligently saved his money. By 1950, he had saved about $12,000. A broker talked him into investing in—he'll never forget the name—Duvay Copper, a company that prospected for mines. Pezim lost all his money in six weeks. "But," he says, "I figured I'd better check this business out, because if I was losing this kind of money, that sure as hell meant someone was making it." He started learning the mining markets, and by 1953 he was a broker. Today, Pezim estimates he is worth "oh, it's hard to value me, about $30 to $40 million, plus power and control, which is more important." When it comes to cars he owns, well, he's not sure about them, either. In fact, he has five Mercedes plus a Toyota Land Cruiser that he bought just to have something big enough to hold the groceries.
Pearl is on the phone. She's always on the phone. "Get off the phone," Pezim instructs. She turns her back. Haughtily. And talks on.
Pezim is back in Vancouver, sitting in a hot tub at his palatial spread on English Bay. The house will soon be sold for $5.5 mil. "Life is good," he chortles. "You get all this. Who needs money?
"You are sitting in the cleanest water in the world," he says. Pezim didn't intend it to be that way. It just happened. When he was having the house built two years ago, he told the contractor that he loved clean water. So the contractor made sure it was really clean. He installed a water purification system that many small towns would love to have. It cost nearly $300,000. "So enjoy it," Pezim says, and he laughs. Remember, money always makes Pezim laugh.
Things may be good, but that's not to say business is good. It's not. It stinks. The Vancouver Stock Exchange, in which Pezim is, arguably, the biggest player, has fallen on hard times. Because of his suspension from trading—not yet enforced because of the appeal—Pezim is having a hard time raising money for his deals. He's mad because walk-up ticket sales for the Lions are poor. Yet he says, "I enjoy the good times and I enjoy the aggravation." Pezim loves the story about a jury foreman in a stock-fraud case who announces, "We find this promoter guilty of serious fraud and stock manipulation, and we all want to buy his next deal." Pezim throws his hands up in laughter.
And before the laughter dies, he's talking about his career in the Canadian Army, described in various publications as including a stint as an infantryman in Europe. Well, no, says Pezim. What he really did was drive a supply truck in Jamaica while staying at the Casablanca Hotel in Montego Bay. Well, he didn't drive the truck. He paid somebody else to drive it. That left him free to tend to his battalion's round-the-clock crap games at the hotel. Pezim chortles. He is a great chortler.
Above all, Pezim prides himself on being a good loser—in fact, a great loser. He kicks at the bubbling water in the hot tub and tries to remember how many times he has gone broke. "Four, maybe five," he concludes. So what's broke? "Having less than $10 million."
In truth, broke for him is having just $59. That was how much he had in 1972. He cherishes the memory.
Seems he had just spent almost $11 mil trying to take over Armour meat-packing. He had failed. And he was down to his last $250,000. So, naturally, he decided to promote a fight between Muhammad Ali and George Chuvalo in-Vancouver. He gave Ali $200,000, Chuvalo $50,000—and the fight was a fiasco. Fewer than 9,000 fans showed up at Pacific Coliseum; during the fight, Murray's wife at the time, Marilyn, got blood all over her white dress; and a few days later—honest—the Pezims were picking up soft-drink cans and turning them in for deposit money to get enough to eat. Finally, with $6.20, they went to a McDonald's on Robson Street in Vancouver "and had a delicious meal," Pezim says. "It was exhilarating. We laughed until we had tears in our eyes." (No wonder Berle cracks that Pezim is "the poster boy for bankruptcy.") Three months later, Pezim says, "I bought a lime company based in Douglas, Arizona, for $2.5 million, and I truly didn't have a cent. Actually, what I did was get my friends to buy it for me." Four years later, Pezim sold the lime company for $45 million, with his share coming to $10 million. "It's always nice to have a successful deal," he says. Murray Pezim has been up and down and all around.