The Human Barometer

Sam Zell timed the real estate market perfectly, but he's not out of the game

Roark Johnson for TIME

Sam Zell, chairman of Equity International.

Maybe it's time to bury the label that has always attached to the Chicago investor Sam Zell. He has been called the "grave dancer" because of his appetite for distressed or mismanaged assets, from real estate to railcars. Yet Zell manages to find an awful lot of life in dead assets--his net worth is estimated at $6 billion.

Sometimes Zell, 66, shares his views with friends through an annual New Year's e-mail, in which he changes the lyrics of a song to reflect his thoughts. In January 2006, he opined on the private-equity boom through a remake of Raindrops Keep Fallin' on...

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