Former Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi dies at age 85

Yamauchi headed Nintendo for 53 years before retirement in 2002.

The man credited with turning what was a modest trading-card company into one of the world’s most successful and well-known video game companies died of pneumonia in a hospital in central Japan this morning, according to an email sent to press by Nintendo.

Hiroshi Yamauchi headed Nintendo from 1949 until his retirement in 2002 – 53 years – and saw it grow from a producer of trading cards to steward of such beloved video-games as Super “Mario Bros.,” “The Legend of Zelda,” “Donkey Kong” and “Star Fox.”

He lead the development and release of the Family Computer (FamiCom) and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video-game consoles as well as the GameBoy handheld video-game console during his time as head of Nintendo.

Yamauchi leveraged the creative talent of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the “Mario,” “Legend of Zelda,” and “Star Fox” series of games, and Gunpei Yoko, creator of “Metroid,” “Kid Icarus,” “Punch-Out” and engineer behind the GameBoy, to propel Nintendo into the American video-game market during his time as president of the company.

After his retirement from his position as president, from which he refused his pension estimated to be between $9 and $14 million because he thought the company could put the money to better use, he became chairman of the company’s board of directors until he left the company entirely in 2005.

He was succeeded as President of Nintendo by Satoru Iwata, who was previously head of Nintendo’s Corporate Planning Division.

Yamauchi was also owner and CEO of the Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball team at the time of his death. He purchased the team, located in Nintendo of America’s home city, at the request of Slade Gorton, Washington state senator in order to keep the team from having to move out of Seattle. 

His purchase of the team in 1992 was pivotal in MLB history because it allowed for Japanese players to join the league, which was previously denied. At the time of his death, Yamauchi had never attended a Mariners game.

Yamauchi is survived by his wife, Michiko, his daughter, Yoko and his son, Fujiko.

A funeral will be held Sunday, according to the email sent by Nintendo.