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Jung-Ju “JJ” Kim, the founder of online game publisher Nexon, passed away at age 54. Nexon announced that he passed away in Hawaii on February 28.

Nexon did not provide a cause of death, but it noted that he had been undergoing treatment for depression and the symptoms had gotten worse of late, according to the Korea Herald.

Min Kim, a former Nexon leader who helped bring Nexon to the U.S., said in a social post that “JJ” had a unique personality. Though Nexon made him wealthy, Jung-Ju handled routine tasks like paining his small apartment in New York City, Kim said.

The Nexon founder also engaged in philanthropy that touched millions of young people and included major contributions in health and education including the Purme Foundation Nexon Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Seoul, South Korea and the Nexon Foundation for building children’s hospitals.

Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney offered his condolences.

“It is difficult to express the tragedy of losing our friend and mentor Jay Kim, a man who had an immeasurably positive impact on the world,” said Mahoney, in a statement. “As a founder and visionary leader, Jay encouraged those around him to ignore the skeptics and trust their creative instincts. He will be deeply missed by his Nexon family and many friends.”

Kim founded Nexon in 1994, and launched the world’s first multiplayer online role-playing game, The Kingdom of the Winds. The company later launched huge hits including MapleStory, KartRider, Mabinogi, and Dungeon & Fighter. Kim became a billionaire after Nexon went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2011. That year, the company generated more than $830 million in sales. Nexon now has 45 games.

Kim left the company in 2016. Kim remained a large shareholder as CEO of NXC, which owns 47% of Nexon. Kim stepped down from the NXC role in 2021. Alex Iosilevich is chief investment officer of NXC and J.K. Lee is CEO of NXC.

In a message to staff, Mahoney said:

“I am sad to share some tragic news.  Our founder and friend, Jay Kim, passed away yesterday while traveling in Hawaii. I recognize this comes as a sudden and horrible shock to everyone in the Nexon family.

The world recognizes Jay as a visionary and pioneer in global entertainment.  But those of us lucky enough to know him as a friend and mentor will remember him as a man who inspired others to make the world a better place.  Jay challenged us to innovate, to ignore the skeptics, and to trust each other.  We recognize his incredibly unique spirit and remember him as a warm, wonderful friend.

Like many of you, I feel a terrible emptiness and personal sense of loss. For more than 25 years Jay guided and inspired me, making a profoundly positive impact on my understanding of both leadership and friendship.  We first met when we were both young, and Nexon was a handful of people in a small room in Gangnam. Since then he has challenged me to think differently about the world and what is possible.  He was by far the most original thinker I have ever met.

Jay deeply loved Nexon and the people in it. He believed that by making Nexon a true global leader, we could inspire and delight people around the world. Jay had a great instinct for hiring talent and today Nexon’s leadership team is united in realizing his vision.

In the days ahead, we will plan a fitting tribute to Jay.  In the meantime, I can think of no better tribute than to commit ourselves to being the innovators, the leaders, and the friends that Jay challenged us to be.”

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