Steve Jobs was an intensely private person. He insisted that Apple’s latest products be kept under wraps until the last possible moment, believing it added to their mystique. He had few close friends. Even his failing health—the pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2003, a liver transplant in 2009—was a matter of rumor. His own company had to coax him into disclosing the severity of his illness—as a business precaution, they said.
Wednesday night, news broke that Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., had passed away. He was 56 years old.
Steve Jobs has been lauded as an innovator; if nothing else, he was a shrewd entrepreneur. But what makes his death so remarkable?
“It is a strange thing to mourn the death of the chairman of one the most profitable companies in the world,” the Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal admits, in the preface of an obituary. “But we do.”
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak struggled for words, finally comparing Jobs’ death to that of John Lennon’s. “Like there’s a big hole in you—it’s very hard to go back and touch on all those feelings, what it means,” he told CNN.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale, likens Jobs’ ‘celebrity’ to that of a “folk hero’s.”
“Steve had a love-hate relationship with his own fame. He wanted it both ways,” biographer Alan Deutschman explains, adding that Jobs was “masterful” at controlling his image in the media.
Jobs’ trajectory is the stuff apple pies are made of. After all, Apple itself was a project that began in his parents’ garage. In 1985, when Jobs was just 30 years old, he was fired from his roost by John Sculley, former president of Pepsi, whom Jobs himself had hired two years earlier. In the following years, rather than floundering, Jobs moved on, purchasing George Lucas’s LucasFilm computer animation department. With it, Jobs formed a little studio called Pixar.
Jobs returned to Apple Inc., which was now scrambling to stay afloat, in 1997. He introduced the iMac in 1998.
“Death is very likely the single best invention of life,” Jobs remarked in his Stanford commencement speech in 2005:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
“I remember walking behind Steve,” one Pixar employee tweeted, “while he told someone he was worried he didn’t plant enough shade trees at Pixar.”
There’s a fine tribute to Steve Jobs here.