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Updated at 9:47 a.m. Pacific with quote from Nintendo CEO and president Satoru Iwata.
Hiroshi Yamauchi, the shrewd Japanese businessman who moved Nintendo into the video game business and made it a world leader, has died. He was 85.
He ran Nintendo for 53 years and remained the second-largest shareholder at the time of his death. Under his leadership, Nintendo entered the video game business, coming up with its first Nintendo Entertainment System home game console and launching beloved games with characters such as Mario. He retired in 2002 after guiding Nintendo through four generations of game consoles and several generations of game handhelds.
Nintendo told the press it was in mourning over the “loss of the former Nintendo president Mr. Hiroshi Yamauchi, who sadly passed away this morning.”
He died of pneumonia at a hospital in central Japan, the company said. The funeral is Sunday.
“The entire Nintendo group will carry on the spirit of Mr. Yamauchi by honoring, in our approach to entertainment, the sense of value he has taught us — that there is merit in doing what is different — and at the same time, by changing Nintendo in accordance with changing times,” said Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s CEO and president who succeeded Yamauchi.
Yamauchi was the grandson of Nintendo’s founder, Fusajiro Yamauchi, who started the company in 1889 as a maker of Hanafuda playing cards. Yamauchi took over in 1949.
Yamauchi had a huge impact on today’s generation of leaders at Nintendo, including game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who designed Donkey Kong as Nintendo’s entry into the U.S. arcade game market. The game launched in 1981 and it was a gigantic hit in the arcades. Miyamoto’s Super Mario Bros. helped the NES become the dominant home console in the 1980s.
Miyamoto went on to create hits such as The Legend of Zelda, Starfox, and many other games. Yamauchi assigned his son-in-law, Minoru Arakawa, to lead the American operation.
Yamauchi’s business savvy showed when he clashed with Sega and Atari in the 1980s and 1990s for control of the video game market. Through the entrepreneur Henk Rogers, Yamauchi was able to secure the rights to Tetris, a simple block color-matching game that became a giant hit on Nintendo’s platforms. Yamauchi also recognized the brilliance of Miyamoto and gave him plenty of room to be creative.
Yamauchi stepped down as president in 2002 and left the board in 2005. Yamauchi was one of Japan’s richest men and was once owner of the Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball team.