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Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dies at age 56

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Image Credit: Shaun Curry/Getty ImagesSteve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. and Pixar Studios, and the man behind the launch of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, died today in California at the age of 56, according to Apple. Jobs first revealed he was battling pancreatic cancer in 2004, having surgery later that year. This past January he announced he was taking a medical leave of absence from his position at Apple until the end of June; he resigned his post as CEO of the company on Aug. 24.

Jobs was a visionary, a technical genius, a ruthless dealmaker, a control freak, a cool-packaging fetishist, and a celeb who loved delivering his company’s products to other celebs as a way to network. But most of all, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a salesman.

Videos of his keynote addresses, those heavily live-blogged events at which he unveiled the latest Apple products and innovations, are archived all over the Internet. They’ll be dissected at business schools for decades, because they demonstrate directly that there’s never been a more galvanizing high-tech celebrant. Whatever he was extolling—the introduction of the iPad, the latest iteration of the iPhone, the newest, most capacious iPod music players—Jobs came on not like a business executive but like an amalgam of high priest and rock star. He brought a showman’s flair to what were essentially glorified PowerPoint presentations, prowling a stark promontory with a large display screen behind him and dressed always in jeans, sneakers and a mock-turtleneck black shirt. (Did he own any other kind of presentation outfit?) He was especially good at proselytizing about the convergence of hand-held devices, computers, and digital media. “You can take your whole music library with you right in your pocket,” he gushed to an audience in October 2001, when the first iPod debuted and permanently smashed the idea of CDs as hip. “Never before possible.” While demonstrating the first iPad touch-screen-tablet computer in January 2010, he piled on superlatives, pronouncing the device “awesome,” “incredible,” “phenomenal,” “super-responsive, super-precise,” and finally “magical and revolutionary”—and yet he never sounded specious.

That was perhaps Jobs’s greatest gift: to make blatant hyperbole feel like a rightly enthusiastic celebration of demonstrable facts, by virtue of what both admirers and detractors called his personal “reality distortion field.”

Alas, we’ve lost our wizard of aahs. Though he never fully acknowledged it publicly—he hated the fact that his health was a global talking point—Jobs was evidently felled by ongoing complications from a rare form of pancreatic cancer he’d been fighting in earnest since 2004. He died Oct. 5, in California. In sickness as in business, Jobs wanted to shape the message. There was a pattern to his medical travails: He would disappear first, triggering rampant speculation that his death was imminent. (Just Google “Steve Jobs death watch” and marvel at the long trail of false alarms.) He would then bounce back and reveal, obliquely, what had been going on, but only after the fact. He had secret surgery to remove a tumor back in 2004. A liver transplant put him out of action for six months in 2009, by which time he had grown startlingly gaunt in public appearances. In January 2011, Jobs announced an indefinite and unexplained medical leave, promising he’d be back “as soon as I can.” He never made it. Instead, after resigning his CEO title on Aug. 24, he suffered the saddest fatal system error the computing world has ever known. He’d seemed super-human for so long, hanging on against a disease that’s typically fatal within months.

Because Jobs made himself such a high-profile CEO, the media has been busy not only mourning his loss, but evaluating how big a financial ripple effect his departure may create. At Pixar Animation Studios, birthplace of the Toy Story films and so many other computer-animated hits, including Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E, and Up, Jobs had served for 21 years as a deep-pocketed benefactor and CEO, from 1985 to 2006. But he’d never been involved in day-to-day creative duties. Once he sold Pixar to Disney in 2006, Jobs was more an overlord than a hands-on manager. At Disney, he’d used the Pixar purchase to become a board member, an idea-man gadfly to CEO Robert Iger, as well as the company’s largest shareholder. His genius for pied-pipering the public into new media platforms will certainly be missed at the studio.