Table: Tycoon's Trajectory

1926: Leo Kirch born in the Bavarian city of Würzburg, son of a small-time winemaker.

1956: Borrows money to buy German rights to Federico Fellini's La Strada. The film is a hit and forms the basis of what will become Europe's largest programming library.

1960-1980s: Kirch buys U.S.-made movies and TV programs, dubs them into German, and resells to public TV broadcasters at a hefty markup. Develops close relationships with politicians such as Helmut Kohl, who later becomes Chancellor.

1985: Kirch is main investor in Sat. 1, Germany's first commercial station

EARLY 1990s: Kirch expands abroad, buying stakes in Italy's Telepiu and Spain's Telecinco. Begins buying shares in Axel Springer Verlag, publisher of Bild tabloid, eventually acquiring 40%. Also begins investing heavily in film and TV production.

1996: Kirch launches pay digital TV in Germany, now known as Premiere World. To lock up programming, he signs multibillion-dollar deals with Hollywood studios for rights to future films and TV shows.

1997: First signs of concern that Kirch's borrowing is reaching dangerous levels as pay TV falls far short of subscriber goals.

1999-2000: To raise cash, Kirch sells stakes in pay TV and other businesses to partners including BSkyB, Lehman Brothers, and Saudi Prince Alwaleed's Kingdom Holding Co.

2001: Desperate for content to draw pay-TV viewers, Kirch pays $1.5 billion for Formula One rights.

2002: Crisis looms as banks balk at supplying more cash for Premiere World and other faltering Kirch units.

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