Steve Jobs, Apple's creative visionary, dies at 56

Apple co-founder battled pancreatic cancer

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple and the creative force behind the company's transformation into one of the world's most iconic and pace-setting technology giants, died Wednesday, the company announced.

Jobs, who was perhaps Palo Alto's most influential resident, announced in 2004 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He resigned from his duties as the CEO of Apple on Aug. 24 but remained on the company's board of directors.

He was 56.

In a company statement, Apple said it "has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being."

"Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor," the company said. "Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built; and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple."

Though best known worldwide as the man behind the early personal computer and devices such as the PowerBook, the iPod, the iPhone, and, most recently, the iPad, Jobs was also a familiar figure to local residents. He was frequently seen taking walks around his Old Palo Alto neighborhood with family members or companions.

He grew up in Los Altos and lived in Palo Alto nearly all of his adult life.

Neighborhood kids love the elaborate haunted house in the Jobs' front yard at Halloween, where the family is known to pass out non-sugary treats.

His children attended local public and private schools. His philanthropically active wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, sits on the board of Teach for America and co-founded a college prep program for underserved students that was launched in East Palo Alto and has expanded to Oakland, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Jobs himself was not active in Palo Alto's civic culture but was deeply rooted in the local tech community, and from a young age looked to his Silicon Valley elders for guidance.

A CEO by the age of 21, "he arranged at his own initiative to meet on a very regular basis with Bob Noyce of Intel, Andy Grove of Intel and, I believe, Jerry Sanders of AMD," said Noyce biographer Leslie Berlin, project historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University.

Berlin spoke with the Weekly in late August around the time Jobs resigned as CEO.

"In some very real way he apprenticed himself to these people. People see the supremely confident Steve Jobs -- and no doubt he was confident back then -- but he was very aware of what he didn't know," Berlin said.

"He talked about there being more or less a relay race in Silicon Valley where one generation of entrepreneurs passes the baton to the next generation: Hewlett and Packard to Noyce at Intel, who then passed it on to Jobs at Apple."

Jobs saw himself as part of that generational succession and is said to have paid it forward by helping the founders of Google when they approached him for advice, she said.

And, like Packard at HP, and Noyce and Gordon Moore at Intel, Jobs followed a Valley tradition of assuming the role of board chair after resigning as CEO.

Despite his early death, Jobs saw Apple through all but 11 years of its 35-year history in which the company evolved from its '60s-style hippie roots to a symbol of global chic -- from the peace symbol to the Mercedes symbol, some have said.

"Before Apple, and specifically before the Macintosh, there really wasn't any kind of 'cool factor' associated with the personal computer industry -- that's an understatement," said Henry Lowood, curator for history of science and technology collections in the Stanford University Libraries.

"Steve Jobs and Apple have certainly changed that."

The original Apple machine, born of meetings of Stanford's Homebrew Computer Club, "was basically a motherboard with 30 chips in it. Anyone using it had to know how to program in hexadecimal machine language -- it was very much 'gearhead to gearhead,'" Berlin said.

"It went through various permutations en route to the Mac and then after the Mac, and what's emerged now is not even Apple Computer anymore, it's just Apple.

"He wasn't at the helm for all of that time, but this is somebody who's been able to change as things needed to change and to push the change forward."

Aside from his qualities of salesmanship and execution of a vision, Jobs's design sensibility was the secret sauce the other companies have envied and never successfully duplicated, Lowood said.

"But important as design is, probably the characteristic that's the most important is he's somebody who has this unbelievable ability to have his company execute on a vision, specifically of what a product should be, and they don't really waver from that."

Jobs considered himself lucky to have found, early in life, what he loved to do.

Though devastated when he suffered the public humiliation of ouster from Apple following a 1985 power struggle, Jobs said in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford, that he knew he still loved what he did.

"I had been rejected, but I was still in love," he told graduates, urging them to find work they love and not settle for less.

"The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything."

The failure paved the way for "one of the most creative periods of my life," he said, in which he started NeXT and Pixar and met the woman who would become his wife. He returned to Apple in 1996.

In the Stanford speech Jobs also reflected on his early life as an adopted child and college dropout, and on facing the prospect of premature death after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

"Remembering I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything --- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important," he said.

Apple's board or directors also released a statement Wednesday mourning Jobs' passing.

"Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives," the board' said. "The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

Related material:

Video of Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Town Square: Steve Jobs, Apple, and Palo Alto

Statement from Jobs' family

Gennady Sheyner contributed to this report.

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Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Steve Jobs R.I.P.
You were a Bright Star. You will be missed.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Steve Jobs impacted more people on this planet than has anyone else in the last century. He empowered people with the ability to communicate better, to understand more and to enjoy more.

His vision became and remains a beacon for the rest of us.

Thank you Steve.

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2011 at 8:54 am

It is sad...almost appalling, that only two readers here online paid homage to probably one of the most important human beings this planet has had the luck to call one of its "humans".

He will not miss those about whom I speak of, either.

I hope his children build a monument on the lot he owned that will irritate those who prevented him from living comfortably in the house he hoped to build and which you all fought against.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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