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Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former head of video game giant Nintendo who helmed the company during its period of skyrocketing growth in the 1980s and 90s, has passed away at the age of 85. The entertainment visionary succumbed to pneumonia on September 19.

Yamauchi’s tenure as head of Nintendo began suddenly in 1949, when his grandfather Sekiryo, the company’s then-president, passed away due to illness. The reins of the company were passed to Hiroshi, at the time a student at Tokyo’s prestigious Waseda University and only 22 years old.

Yamauchi served as president of Nintendo for over 50 years, during which the company evolved into a completely different venture than the one his great grandfather had founded in 1889. Until Yamauchi stepped into the company’s top spot, Nintendo was a playing card manufacturer, particularly known for the colorful cards adorned with illustrations of flowers and animals used for the traditional Japanese game hanafuda.

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You can still buy Nintendo-brand hanafuda cards in Japan, but the lion’s share of Nintendo’s revenue now comes from its video game software and hardware business. The company revitalized and revolutionized the industry with its release of the Family Computer, or Famicom, video game console in 1983, which then went on to worldwide success as the renamed Nintendo Entertainment System. Before Yamauchi’s run as president was over, Nintendo would go on to launch no less than half a dozen new pieces of hardware, starting with the portable Game Boy in 1989, followed by the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Virtual Boy, Nintendo 64, and finally the GameCube and Game Boy Advance in 2001.

The company’s near-constant string of commercial successes during these years made Yamauchi an extremely wealthy man, enough so that in 1992 he became the owner of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners. A 2008 Forbes magazine article on wealthy individuals in Japan reported that Yamauchi was the richest person in the country, with a personal wealth of US$7.8 billion.

In 2002, Yamauchi stepped down as president, designating current Nintendo head Satoru Iwata as his successor. Iwata is Nintendo’s fourth president, and its first who is not a direct descendent of the company’s founder. Following Iwata’s instatement, Yamauchi served as a senior advisor on Nintendo’s board of directors until retiring completely in 2005, at which point he graciously declined what is assumed to have been a generous retirement package from the company he turned into an international powerhouse.

A wake will be held at the Nintendo head office in Yamauchi’s native Kyoto on the evening of September 21, with a memorial service, presided over by Yamauchi’s eldest son, Katsuhito, scheduled for 1 p.m. the following day.

Source: Sankei News
Top image: Forbes
Insert image: Oku no Karuta