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Software whiz called richest American

Computer software inventor and college dropout Bill Gates replaced entertainment mogul John Kluge atop the Forbes annual list of richest Americans, the magazine said Sunday.

At age 36, Gates becomes the youngest person to reach the No. 1 ranking. The founder of Microsoft Corp., the world's largest personal computer software company, makes money from each machine that uses MS-DOS, the most widely used personal computer software.

Gates' $6.3-billion fortune grew by $1.5-billion this year, while Kluge's net worth dropped about $400-million to $5.5-billion, the magazine estimated.

Kluge, 78, had held the top spot on the magazine's annual list for three years since Wal-Mart stores founder Sam Walton split his wealth among his family in 1989.

Five members of the Walton family, whose patriarch died in April, occupied spots three through seven with $5.1-billion each.

Presidential candidate Ross Perot, 62, who built his fortune providing computer services, landed in 19th place on the list with an estimated net worth of $2.4-billion. That's up from the magazine's $2.2-billion estimate last year.

Others have estimated Perot's net worth at $3.3-billion, a figure his campaign staff has called accurate. Forbes said it thinks the higher estimate is inflated.

The magazine that celebrates wealth, offering advice on how to invest money and spend the returns, has compiled the list for 11 years.

Overall, the richest Americans got an average $31-million richer last year and the total net worth for the top 400 rose 4.3 percent to $300.7-billion, Forbes said. By comparison, wages and salaries for Americans in general rose 2.9 percent in the past year, slightly less than inflation, the Labor Department said.

The minimum level to make the list was $265-million.

Rich list

Here is a list of the 20 richest people in the United States as reported by Forbes magazine. Figures given are in millions of dollars.

1. William Henry Gates, $6,300

2. John Werner Kluge, $5,500

3. Helen Walton, $5,100

4. S. Robson Walton, $5,100

5. Jim C. Walton, $5,100

6. John T. Walton, $5,100

7. Alice L. Walton, $5,100

8. Warren Buffett, $4,400

9. Samuel Newhouse Jr., $3,500

10. Donald Newhouse, $3,500

11. Sumner Redstone, $3,250

12. Ronald Perelman, $2,900

13. Ted Arison, $2,850

14. Paul Gardner Allen, $2,800

15. Rupert Murdoch, $2,600

16. Richard De Vos, $2,500

17. Jay Van Andel, $2,500

18. Henry Lea Hillman, $2,400

19. Ross Perot, $2,400

20. Edgar Bronfman Sr., $2,350