Nintendo President Satoru Iwata dies at 55

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(AP) (AP)

Nintendo game company President Satoru Iwata has died at age 55.  He led the company through the well-known Pokemon and Super Mario franchises, and news of his death drew condolences from both game fans and industry rivals. 

Iwata had a lengthy illness and died of a bile duct tumor on Saturday, according to the company.

On Twitter, fans thanked him for childhood memories and for bringing families together. On some Internet sites, an image of the flag in the Super Mario game was flying at half-staff. Nintendo America announced it was suspending social media activity for the day in remembrance of Iwata.

“He didn’t just create technology. He created a whole culture,” said Nobuyuki Hayashi, a consultant and technology expert. “It wasn’t just a consumer product that he had delivered. He brought to people something that’s eternal, what people remember from when they were kids. He was special.”

Iwata served as president from 2002 and led Nintendo’s development into a global company, with its hit Wii home console and DS handheld, and also through its recent troubles caused by the popularity of smartphones.

Satoru Iwata

Nintendo said on July 13, 2015 that chief executive Satoru Iwata has died of cancer at 55. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS

Iwata had been poised to lead Nintendo through another stage after it recently did an about-face and said it will start making games for smartphones, meaning that Super Mario the plumber would soon start arriving on cellphones and tablets.

His replacement was not immediately announced, but the company said star game designer Shigeru Miyamaoto will remain in the leadership team along with Genyo Takeda, who is also in the game development field.

Iwata succeeded Hiroshi Yamauchi, who ruled over the Kyoto-based company for half a century, transforming it from a traditional playing-card company to a technological powerhouse. Yamauchi died in 2013 at 85.

Iwata was picked with Yamauchi’s blessing, and Yamauchi remained adviser for many years. Iwata had been employed at an innovative software company before he was recruited as Nintendo chief. He was tapped as president at a surprisingly young age, in his early 40s, for a Japanese company.

Iwata was a respected and popular figure in the game industry, partly because he was relatively more approachable than executives at other Japanese companies, who tend to be aloof and rigid in demeanor.

Mark MacDonald, executive director at Tokyo-based 8-4, which consults about games, said Iwata was not afraid to be different and go against mainstream trends in games.

But he was also at one with game players, interacting with them, often using the Internet, in “this playful back and forth, like a David Letterman in your living room,” MacDonald said in a telephone interview.

A funeral service will be held on July 17. Iwata is survived by his wife Kayoko.

Associated Press