Al Lerner was born on May 8, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of an immigrant candy shop owner. He graduated from Columbia University, and he then entered the business world. His first job was selling furniture. Lerner earned just seventy-five dollars per week in this position. Eventually Lerner amassed one of the largest fortunes in the world, totaling 4.3 billion dollars in 2002. From furniture sales, Lerner moved to real estate. His first purchase was an apartment building in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1991, Lerner became a ten percent owner of MBNA Credit Corporation. He served as this business's chief executive officer until his death on October 23, 2002.
At the time of his death, Lerner was majority owner of the Cleveland Browns, a National Football League (NFL) team. He had been a minority owner under Art Modell, but when Modell moved the Browns franchise to Baltimore, Maryland, Lerner worked to create a new team in Cleveland. In 1998, Lerner purchased the rights to create a new Cleveland Browns team for 530 million dollars. Upon his death, Lerner's son Randy assumed control of the team.
Lerner lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio, at the time of his death. He donated millions of dollars to various charities in northern Ohio, his adopted home. Lerner donated 100 million dollars to the Cleveland Clinic and ten million dollars to the University Hospitals of Cleveland, as well as large sums of money to other groups.