Hiroshi Yamauchi Dies: Nintendo Visionary, Game Innovator Was 85

Thursday, 19 Sep 2013 11:42 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Hiroshi Yamauchi, the man who made Nintendo a worldwide video game powerhouse as its longtime president, died Thursday in Japan of pneumonia. He was 85.

Yamauchi led Nintendo from 1949 to 2002, engineering its global growth and developing the early family computer consoles and Game Boys, according to the Associated Press.

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Nintendo, founded in 1889 by Yamauchi's grandfather, started out as a playing cards company and transformed under Yamauchi’s leadership to create the immensely popular Super Mario Bros. and Pok√©mon games. In the 2000s, Nintendo innovated with the Wii gaming system. 

Yamauchi dropped out of prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo in his early 20s to helm the company. His raspy voice and tendency to speak informally in his native Kyoto dialect, a rarity among Japanese executives, was part of his distinct personality.

He was credited with hiring tech talents like game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who created Super Mario and Donkey Kong.

Yamauchi had unique insights into consumer trends and made major decisions about which games his design team should make.

Following the success of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that made the company the foremost gaming giant, worth billions of dollars, Yamauchi left the company soon after the release of the Nintendo GameCube, the Huffington Post reported. His successor, Satoru Iwata, has led the company since then.

Forbes reported that Yamauchi stepped down because of his ailing health, but he remained on board with the company as an adviser. That year, Nintendo reached $4.5 billion in sales, and profits nearly tripled to $1.3 billion, thanks to the success of the portable video game system. 

Yamauchi voluntarily gave up his $11 million retirement fund, donating it to Nintendo.

Yamauchi purchased Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners 1992, later transferring it to the company’s U.S. unit, wrote Forbes. In 2005, Yamauchi left Nintendo’s board of directors but remained the largest individual shareholder with a 10 percent stake. In April 2013, Forbes listed Yamauchi's net worth at $2.1 billion, making him the 13th richest man in Japan.

Yamauchi will be buried on Saturday. He is survived by his wife and three children.

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