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The Complex Life of Steve Jobs

Tech leaders remember their rival and friend
Steve Jobs silhouetted inside the Apple logo

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Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc. who changed the world’s relationship with technology, died Wednesday at 56.

Apple announced Jobs’ death in a statement on its website and honored its founder by turning over its entire homepage to a simple photo of Jobs, with the text: “Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.”

“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” Apple’s board of directors said in a statement. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve. His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.”

Apple did not disclose a cause or location of death, but the news was not unexpected. Jobs announced that he had pancreatic cancer in 2004, underwent a liver transplant in 2009, and, in recent years, has taken several medical leaves of absence.

On Aug. 24, he announced that he was stepping down as CEO, but would remain on the company’s board.

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” he said at the time. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Jobs, who dropped out of Reed College after six months, founded Apple Computer Inc. with Steve Wozniak in his parents' garage in 1976. But, over the past three decades, Apple's reach has extended far beyond personal computers to transform the way people consume and create media and connect with one another.

Riding the popularity of its iPhones, iPods, MacBooks and other devices, Apple has become the biggest company in the world, leading consumer electronics with its commitment to simple, sleek, and easy-to-use designs. Jobs is counted among the world’s greatest CEOs and inventors, revered not just for his vision, but creativity, business savvy, and aesthetic appreciation.

“Steve was among the greatest of American innovators—brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: He changed the way each of us sees the world.”

But though the public knows him as a modern-day Thomas Edison, his personal story is that of a highly complex and private man. 

Born on Feb. 24, 1955, in San Francisco to an unmarried graduate student, Steven Paul Jobs was quickly adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs, a working-class couple. He grew up with the Jobs near Cupertino, Calif. (which ultimately became home to Apple’s headquarters), but later connected with his biological sister, author Mona Simpson.

At 23, Jobs had a child with his high school girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, but reportedly denied his paternity for years.

He met his wife Laurene Powell while speaking at Stanford University, and they were married in 1991.

Throughout his professional life, and especially during his battle with cancer, Jobs fought hard to keep the world at arms’ length. He charmed his fans on stage during Apple events, but eschewed the spotlight and was notoriously mercurial with the media.

When a notably gaunt Jobs appeared at Apple's annual developers conference in June 2008, the rumor mills in Silicon Valley and Wall Street started running rampant. Since then, the company's share price has dipped and rallied in response to the latest reports about Jobs’ health.

Given the amount of control Jobs wielded over the company, in January 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation into whether Jobs and Apple misled investors and shareholders by manipulating or withholding "material information" from the public about his health.

But, despite the apparent influence Jobs has had over Apple's success, many allies have argued that the CEO's personal health information should have remained private.

In his last years at Apple, Jobs attained a rock star-like status as the company’s leader, but his path to prestige was hardly smooth.

Fulfilling his biological mother's dream, Jobs graduated from high school and enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Ore. But after six months, he dropped out, unable to justify to himself the financial burden on his parents.

He went on to work for game-maker Atari and reconnected with an old high school friend, Steven Wozniak, an engineering whiz who had recently dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley. The two joined forces and, in pairing Wozniak's engineering brilliance with Jobs' vision and business sense, launched the company that gave the world the first personal computer.

But in 1985, after convincing former Pepsi executive John Sculley to join Apple as its CEO, Jobs found himself struggling to hold on to the company he helped create. After differences over how to run the company, Sculley and the Apple board pushed Jobs out.

Only 30 years old and, forced to start over again, Jobs founded NeXT Computer and Pixar.

Although NeXT failed to live up to Jobs' hopes of building a personal computer to rival Apple's, after eight years, it brought him full circle. In 1996 Apple's acquisition of NeXT was finalized, and, less than a year later, Jobs reprised his role as the company's CEO.

Job's return to Apple—described as his “second coming” by followers in the so-called “cult of Apple”—restored the company's profitability and customers' interest in its products. After a decline in revenues in 1997, the company rebounded in 1998 with three profitable quarters in a row.

As before, Jobs success came from knowing what kinds of technology would resonate with his audience and mastering the art of selling it.

"Steve did an excellent job of melding the marketing, operations, and technology. He understood which technology was good and what people would like," Wozniak told students at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School in 2008.

Since his return to Apple, the company has unleashed a string of critically acclaimed products. The iMac, launched in 1998, signaled Apple's rebirth and was called an "industry-changing success" by Forbes. The iPod, released in 2001, turned the music industry on its head, and paved the way for iTunes, the iPhone, and iPad.

Those products made Jobs, and his signature black turtleneck and jeans, a pop culture icon. And, for the past four years, Apple has topped Fortune’s list of the most admired companies in the world.

Upon learning of his death, technology leaders, young and old, released statements remembering the man who was a fierce rival in business, but also a friend, mentor, and inspiration.

“Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago and have been colleagues, competitors, and friends over the course of more than half our lives,” said Microsoft's Bill Gates. “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.”

Yahoo founder Jerry Yang said Jobs was his “hero” when he was growing up. “He not only gave me a lot of personal advice and encouragement, he showed all of us how innovation can change lives,” Yang said. “I will miss him dearly, as will the world."

Silicon Valley’s youngest star also had warm words for the pioneer who helped pave his way.

"Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you,” said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Through his successes and public losses, Jobs maintained that fulfillment comes from pursuing what you love.

Reflecting on his cancer diagnosis, in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, he said: "Remembering that 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. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Besides his wife, Jobs is survived by his four children.