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Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder who used digital technology to resurrect animated feature films, reshape the music industry and shake up film and television distribution models, died Wednesday. He was 56.
Jobs, a computer genius who, with fellow college dropout Steve Wozniak, built the first Apple computers from the Jobs’ family garage, died from resiratory arrest in California after battling pancreatic cancer.
“Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor,” a statement on the official Apple website said. “Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”
A Buddhist and vegetarian who once handed out bottles of carrot juice to trick-or-treaters, Jobs was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 when he disclosed that doctors had removed a cancerous tumor from his pancreas.
Jobs and Wozniak introduced the Apple II computer in 1977 and took their company public in 1980, an event that made Jobs a multimillionaire able to set his sights on conquering the entertainment industry. He succeeded by turning Pixar into what is arguably the most consistent film studio in history and by becoming the largest shareholder of Disney, the industry’s most iconic company.
Born in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 1955, to an unmarried couple, Jobs was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs. As early as high school, Jobs was plotting a course that included the creation of world-changing products leading to personal fame and fortune. Along the way, he feuded with some of the most powerful men in the fields of technology and entertainment, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, longtime Disney CEO Michael Eisner and even The Beatles.
In earlier times an egomaniac who once dressed up as Jesus Christ at a Halloween party, Jobs even lost control of Apple, necessitating that he engineer one of the business world’s most successful comebacks of all time. In 1983, Jobs famously convinced PepsiCo executive John Sculley to become Apple CEO by asking: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
A year later, Apple made advertising history with a Super Bowl commercial directed by Ridley Scott that introduced the Mac computer. One year after that, Sculley, in concert with the board of directors, ousted Jobs from Apple. “What can I say? I hired the wrong guy,” Jobs said in a 1996 PBS documentary. “He destroyed everything I spent 10 years working for, starting with me.”
The year he left Apple, Jobs created a new company, NeXT Computer, and a year later he purchased another, the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm for $10 million.
Jobs would own 92 percent of that CG-company purchased from Star Wars creator George Lucas, with Alvy Ray Smith and Ed Catmull sharing the remaining 8 percent. It was Smith’s idea to call the new entity Pixar.
With the addition of John Lasseter and some of the most inventive animators in the business, the team set out to make the first feature film based on Pixar’s CG-images, a goal so lofty that, had the film flopped, it could have ended Jobs’s corporate comeback. Toy Story, though, was the biggest hit of 1995, paving the way for a Pixar IPO and a lucrative partnership with Disney, the film’s distributor.
With the music industry reeling from Internet users who preferred sharing music to buying it, Apple created the iPod and iTunes, with Jobs handling the arduous task of obtaining the digital rights to songs that he would sell to consumers for 99 cents apiece. Having been battered by digital pirates, music executives were skeptical of the iTunes Music Store back then, according to Hilary Rosen, head of the RIAA at the time, but they were won over by Jobs’s passion.
“The shift came about above all because of the sheer willpower of Steve. His sheer charisma and his intensity absolutely made a difference,” Rosen said, according to the book iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, by Jeffrey Young and William Simon. “Steve is an incredible music fan. For people in the music industry, that was very special.”
Jobs, who once dated folk singer Joan Baez, named his computer company Apple in part because of his admiration for the Beatles and their Apple Records. But when the iTunes music store used an apple for its logo, Apple Corp. sued. Four years later, the two settled their legal differences, and iTunes began selling Beatles music in November (2010).
As Apple the computer company was shaking up the music industry, Pixar, the other company run by Jobs, was enjoying a streak of hits with A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, and Jobs was trying to squeeze a better distribution deal from Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner.
The negotiations became so rancorous that former vp Al Gore, an Apple board member, stepped in, to no avail.
Jobs called Pixar “the most powerful and trusted brand in animation,” and he doubted that Pixar could ever strike a deal with Disney as long as Eisner was at the helm, according to iCon. That feud, too, was settled in favor of Jobs when, after Eisner quit Disney, new CEO Bob Iger purchased Pixar in January 2006 for about $7.4 billion, giving Jobs a 7.4 percent stake in Disney and a seat on its board of directors.
Even before Jobs joined Disney, he was taking advantage of the conglomerate’s close association with Pixar to boost the potential of iTunes, which began supporting video in 2005. Along with music videos, some of the earliest content available were TV shows from Disney’s ABC and Disney Channel networks like Desperate Housewives, Lost, That’s So Raven and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
The introduction of the iPad on April 3, 2010, took portable viewing of video on-demand to a different level, and iTunes now offers thousands of film and TV titles.
“With Apple, Steve Jobs has created an unassailable ecosystem of iPods, iTunes, iPhones and iPads that has changed the world and destroyed all challengers for both the home and the enterprise, a heretofore unthinkable vision that no others can compete with worldwide,” CNBC host Jim Cramer told The Hollywood Reporter.
But while Jobs has been on a roll for more than a decade as arguably the world’s most influential man in digital entertainment, he died before he could guide Apple TV — which he once referred to as his “hobby” — to success.
Apple TV, a fraction the size of a typical cable set-top box, moves iTunes collections, as well as video from YouTube, Netflix and other online suppliers, to TV screens. While generally reviewed as extraordinarily sleek and convenient, the product has yet to strike a chord with consumers the way iPod, iPad and iTunes have, a fact that insiders say disturbed Jobs more than he would let on.
At a Macworld Conference and Expo in 2007, Jobs used a hockey analogy to explain how he kept Apple’s products ahead of the curve. “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love: ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very, very beginning,” he said.
Jobs often was criticized for being a perfectionist. In 1995 he told the Smithsonian Institution, “It’s painful when you have some people who are not the best people in the world.”
Friends say Jobs mellowed late in his life, focusing on family. “Parenthood changes one’s world,” he said. “It’s almost like a switch gets flipped inside you, and you can feel a whole new range of feelings that you never thought you’d have.”
Because of his poor health, Jobs has taken multiple leaves since 2004 from his position as CEO of Apple, and on Aug. 24 he relinquished the spot permanently. Jobs assumed the role of chairman of the board — a position that hadn’t existed at the time — and Apple appointed then-COO Tim Cook its new chief executive.
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