Hiroshi Yamauchi dies at 85, the billionaire Japanese businessman who turned Nintendo into a wildly successful home video game business, died in Kyoto, Japan, according to reports.
The cause of death was complications of pneumonia, the company said.
Mr. Yamauchi was president of Nintendo from 1949 to 2002, transforming his family’s small hanafuda card-making business into a multi-billion dollar video game powerhouse.
He was once listed as Japan’s richest person. In April of 2013, Forbes estimated his net worth at $2.1 billion.
Nintendo’s Donkey King and the original Mario Bros. became huge hits in the 1980s, paving the way for the company’s enormous success.
The Nintendo Entertainment System came out with games based on unlikely yet endearing characters that would become household names.
The New York Times wrote in 1988: “Many Nintendo best sellers, like Super Mario Bros. 2, are based on wildly preposterous premises, this particular one being two mustachioed Italian janitors who endure various trials, such as dodging hammer-swinging turtles and lava balls and man-eating plants, in order to save a Mushroom Princess. No matter. Kids can’t get enough of the games.”
Mr. Yamauchi professed not to understand video games, yet Nintendo soon dominated the business.
Fans would sometimes camp outside electronics stores for days in anticipation of new releases. Nintendo dominates the list of all-time best-selling games.
Later products included the Nintendo 64 Emulator and Super Nintendo Emulator.
In the 1990s Mr. Yamauchi bought a majority stake in the Seattle Mariners baseball team. The team signed star Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, opening the door for many more Japanese players to join American teams. Suzuki now plays for the New York Yankees.
Characteristically detached, Mr. Yamauchi admitted at the time that he was not really interested in baseball, and had never attended a game. He is believed to have never gone to one since.
Mr. Yamauchi’s survivors include his son, Katsuhitu. Image/Toru Yamanaka/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images