Perelman's critics call him a ruthless raider who buys companies cheap and makes millions when he dumps them. Perelman bought the cosmetics giant Revlon in 1985 for $1.8 billion after a hostile takeover battle.
His holding company describes itself as having interests in "consumer products, gaming, entertainment, financial services, private security, medical devices, biotechnology and other industries."
Perelman's glitzy lifestyle includes at least two New York apartments. He bought one from actress Julia Roberts. He also has a 57-acre estate in the Hamptons and a home in Palm Beach, Fla.
One of Perelman's neighbors, Ira Rennert, bought AM General for $133 million in 1992. Rennert has made headlines for building a mansion in the Hamptons that is twice the size of the White House, with 29 bedrooms and 39 bathrooms.
The federal government has accused Rennert and U.S. Magnesium LLC, a Renco subsidiary, of polluting the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Other lawsuits allege Renco companies polluted a Missouri town.
Analysts say Renco's legal problems and debts induced Rennert to put AM General up for sale in 2002.
Perelman also has been linked to scandal. As the chairman of Revlon, he recommended a job candidate named Monica Lewinsky for an internship with the Clinton administration.
He has been linked to socialites, models and beauties. He has six children from previous marriages. His fourth wife is actress Ellen Barkin.
Perelman grew up in Philadelphia and got an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. He went to work in his family's small metal manufacturing business and stayed there until he was 35, author Connie Bruck writes in her book The Predators' Ball.
In his new book, Testosterone Inc., author Christopher Byron asks why Perelman, at the "peak of his fame as the czar of the American cosmetics industry," would "turn his private life into tabloid headlines through a divorce proceeding that featured allegations of out-of-control serial womanizing?"
Byron writes that Perelman started buying and selling companies in 1978 with a $1.7 million loan from his wife to gain a 34 percent stake in the jewelry distributor Cohen Hatfield Industries. In 1980 his business bought MacAndrews and Forbes, a candy maker, for $45 million.
Soon after Perelman bought MacAndrews and Forbes, it issued $33 million in junk bonds. That helped launch what Byron calls "a borrowing-and-buying binge."
Perelman failed in his bid to buy the toy and game maker Milton Bradley. But using junk bonds, he purchased Consolidated Cigars, Movie Labs, Technicolor Inc., Video Corp. and Pantry Pride, a supermarket chain. He joined forces with Michael Milken, another junk bond enthusiast and Wharton graduate, to buy Revlon.