Apple mogul gave Hollywood a digital distribution outlet

Steven Jobs, who died Wednesday at age 56 after a long struggle with cancer, may have had the greatest impact on everyday lives in general, and showbiz in particular, of any technologist since Thomas Edison — and his impact on showbiz dwarfs even Edison’s.

Launching the personal computer revolution at Apple, he transformed the way people work and communicate — and the way entertainment is created and consumed.

By nurturing Pixar, he fostered an equally profound revolution in how movies are made. As President Obama observed Wednesday, “There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.”

He was a prickly genius who followed no star but his own, and the world followed him. Disney chief creative officer John Lasseter, who worked closely with him from the time Jobs bought Pixar, recently told Variety Jobs taught him to trust his vision. “Steve Jobs is probably my biggest mentor when it comes to that. He doesn’t do focus testing. He believes so deeply in an idea, that this is great, ‘If I would like it, therefore everyone else would like it.’ “

Hollywood did not always agree with Jobs — there were tiffs over the pricing of music and other offerings in the iTunes store and over the fact that Apple rendered iTunes content unplayable on non-Apple devices. But at a time when huge numbers of consumers were illegally downloading music and other content from P2P file-sharing sites, the series of devices Apple introduced under Jobs — the iPod in conjunction with the iTunes Music Store, the iPhone and the iPad — made the legal (and therefore, for showbiz, at least potentially profitable) consumption of digital content possible and popular, weaning some consumers of the piracy habit. Just days before Jobs’ death, former MPAA president Bob Pisano called on the movie industry to find its own iTunes, i.e., a “simple, convenient and fun” way to buy digital copies of movies and TV shows.

Jobs gained fame as one of the “two Steves” — Steve Wozniak was the other — who co-founded Apple Computer in a garage in 1976, making computers.

Pixar purchase

He lost control of the company in 1985 and saw his reputation and personal fortune dwindle over the next decade. But during that time he acquired from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, at a bargain price, a small computer-graphics unit that was quickly remonickered Pixar. Jobs put his own cash into the money-losing company and saw it deliver the 1995 blockbuster “Toy Story” and make him a billionaire.

In time, Disney bought Pixar, and Jobs became the Mouse House’s largest shareholder, with holdings dwarfing those of any other individual, and a member of its board. By then, he was a well-established entertainment executive, having returned to Apple and led it to market domination in a new arena: music.

Under Jobs, Apple introduced the first popular system for legal music downloading: the combination of iTunes software, the iTunes Music Store and the iPod music player. The iPod, dismissed by critics at its introduction for being too expensive, too quirky and too tied to Apple’s software, became an iconic entertainment product and transformed Apple into a key player in electronic distribution, including TV shows and movies.

Personally, Jobs was one of the corporate world’s most effective pitchmen.

His appearances at trade events, especially the Macworld tradeshow in San Francisco, always clad in his trademark black mock-turtleneck shirt, were among any year’s most anticipated tech events.

Apple fans would hang on every word, waiting for the famous “One more thing…” at the end, which often signaled some astonishing new product, like the iMac or iPod.

He was famous for his ability to persuade — or bully — people into doing the impossible, or at least convince them that the impossible was possible.

Those who worked closely with him often described an abrasive, arrogant and occasionally petty leader who did not brook disagreement. Companies or people that ran afoul of him were often “Steved” — fired on the spot.

Personal computing pioneer

But for better or worse, Jobs’ commitment to high-quality, cutting-edge products made him indispensable for the companies he ran. His career resurrection after his first flameout with Apple was, as the unauthorized biography “iCon” put it, “The greatest second act in the history of business.”

Born in San Francisco and given up for adoption, Jobs was raised in the Northern California area that would eventually be called Silicon Valley. He entered Reed College after high school but soon left.

After traveling in India, he teamed with Wozniak to make and sell small, pre-assembled computers, something no company had ever tried before. The success of their Apple II created the personal computer industry almost from scratch, but the market came to be dominated by the cloneable IBM PC design and Microsoft’s operating system.

Apple responded in 1984 with the Macintosh, the first personal computer to successfully mass-market a graphical interface.

Even the launch of Macintosh had a hint of Jobs’ future. Ridley Scott helmed a “1984”-themed commercial touting the launch of the Mac, and the commercial became one of the legendary spots in TV history.

Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985.

Just the next year, George Lucas — needing cash for his divorce settlement — sold the nascent Pixar to Jobs for just $10 million. Pixar was a money pit at first, though its RenderMan software became the first and most popular computer animation software. Jobs’ funds and patience were running low, but when Pixar’s “Tin Toy” won the animated short Oscar, he negotiated Pixar’s first feature deal, for “Toy Story.” When Pixar took its stock public days later, Jobs became a billionaire.

“Toy Story” was the first in a three-picture deal with Disney and the beginning of an unprecedented run of hits from Pixar.

Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and began a rapid turnaround. The company’s products quickly came to reflect Jobs’ personal tastes.

He loathed buttons on handheld devices, and the result was the sleek, uncluttered interface of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Apple’s success with iTunes and the iPod made it a major player in entertainment, but record labels chafed at Apple’s insistence on a flat 99¢ for every song. ITunes helped reduce but did not end illegal downloads, so it didn’t put vast sums in labels’ coffers. The primary beneficiary, went the complaints, was not artists or labels but Apple itself.

With Jobs in charge of Pixar and Michael Eisner running Disney, negotiations over a renewal of Pixar’s distribution deal with the Mouse became contentious. Disney retained sequel rights to several Pixar titles, including the “Toy Story” franchise, and began developing its own “Toy Story 3″ without Pixar involved. Meanwhile, in a notorious 2004 investor call, Jobs mocked Disney’s toons, singling out “Lion King 1½” as “embarrassing.”

An impasse in the negotiations seemed unavoidable. Jobs wouldn’t sell Pixar for cash, and Disney wouldn’t pay what Jobs was asking. The merger became possible when Eisner left and Robert Iger took over, and the financial solution, it turned out, was for Disney essentially to pay Pixar to take over its own animation efforts.

Disney paid $7.4 billion in 2006 to merge with Pixar. Jobs acquired a 7% stake in Disney and a seat on the board but gave up his posts as Pixar chairman and CEO, and Pixar execs Ed Catmull and John Lasseter took charge of the Disney animation slate.

Jobs pulled another techno-shocker in 2007, unveiling the Apple iPhone. With its smooth touchscreen face and media-centric design, neither of which had been anticipated by tech-watchers, the iPhone proved a game-changer for the cellular phone/PDA business, just as the iPod had been for the music business.

The iPhone led to Jobs’ last revolutionary product: the iPad. While not the first tablet computer, it was the first to catch the public imagination, and became the fastest-selli
ng consumer electronics device in history.

Changed the world

Jobs often talked about wanting to change the world, and change it he did. So forceful was his vision that he altered entertainment in ways so basic they are almost invisible. The devices with which Apple thrived — iPod, iPhone, iPad — empowered individuals in new ways, not least to have entertainment at hand anywhere, anytime. But they also made entertainment a mostly solitary experience. Only with the iPad, a more social device than Apple’s earlier hits, did that begin to change. But Jobs’ health was beginning to fail even as his companies were achieving their greatest success yet. He was treated for pancreatic cancer in 2004.He seemed to recover but looked gaunt in public appearances in 2007 and 2008, sparking rumors about a recurrence of cancer and even rumors of his death.

He announced late in 2008 that he had a hormonal imbalance that was causing him to lose weight, and on Jan. 14, 2009, he took a medical leave of absence from Apple. It was later revealed that he underwent a liver transplant during his leave.

He remained gaunt, however, and took another health-related leave of absence in late 2010, amid rumors his cancer had returned and he was near death.

Those who worked closely with him often described an abrasive, arrogant and occasionally petty leader who did not brook disagreement. Companies or people that ran afoul of him were often “Steved” — fired on the spot.

Jobs abruptly resigned as CEO of Apple on Aug. 24, 2011, and was elected chairman of the board. He recommended Tim Cook as his successor; Cook had already been serving as Apple CEO since January, when Jobs took a third medical leave from the company, though he still made most of the major decisions at Apple.

Jobs’ death was announced just a day after Cook unveiled the company’s latest products, including the iPhone 4s, as part of his first presentation as CEO.

Hailed as ‘true visionary’

Tributes to Jobs came from a wide range of luminaries. President Obama said “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.”

Disney president and CEO Robert Iger called Jobs “a great friend as well as a trusted adviser,” adding, “His legacy will extend far beyond the products he created or the businesses he built. It will be the millions of people he inspired, the lives he changed, and the culture he defined.”

Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America called Jobs “a larger-than-life personality” and added, “He was a true visionary who forever transformed how fans access and enjoy music.”

Sen. Chris Dodd, CEO-chairman of the MPAA, said “He was a pioneer, and helped all of us better understand how technologists and creators can work together to enrich and enliven our shared world. If anyone ever wonders whether one person can make a difference, the answer is Steve Jobs.”

Jobs disliked publicity about his personal relationships, which could be difficult, but he was known to have found his birth parents and biological sister, the novelist Mona Simpson.

He is survived by his wife, Laurene Powell; a son; and three daughters.

* * *

Celebrities took to Twitter — many on Apple devices — to share their thoughts about Steve Jobs’ death Wednesday. A sampling of posts:

“Steve lived the California Dream every day of his life and he changed the world and inspired all of us. (hash)ThankYouSteve” — Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“My heart weeps for all who worked with Steve and who loved him, especially my friend Laurene and their children.” — Maria Shriver.

“We will miss you, Steve Jobs. Sent lovingly from my iPhone.” — Jane Lynch.

“For those of us lucky enough to get to work with Steve, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.” — Bill Gates.

“Had the pleasure of working for him and knowing him. He was our Edison. R.I.P. Steve Jobs.” — actor-writer-director Albert Brooks.

“Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. Kinda can’t believe he’s gone. Carrying a little part of him in my pocket every day.” — actress Martha Plimpton.

“Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. Your genius will live on for generations to come…” — actor Neil Patrick Harris.

“Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. You’ve changed forever the world you leave behind.” — Katie Couric.

“We lost a man of true vision today. Condolences to the whole Apple family.” — actor-director Jon Favreau.

“Such a sad day, I can trace my apple memories to the IIC when i was a kid. RIP.” — singer Josh Groban.

“You guys I’m sad about Steve Jobs too but SteveJobs2 comes out in like a month.” — actor Eli Roth.

“(hash)RIP (hash)SteveJobs, thank you for revolutionizing the way we listen to music. Your vision will not be forgotten.” — The Grammys (Recording Academy).

“Damn. RIP STEVE JOBS. Thanx for all the stuff you gave us. Life is Short. Live it up.” — rocker Benji Madden.

“So sad to hear about Steve Jobs. He was a genius and one of the most innovative people on earth. He changed the world in so many ways. RIP.” — Paris Hilton.

“The world lost a true visionary today. Think different.” — Kevin Spacey.

“Thank you, Steve Jobs, for all of the fun and amazing ways you made our lives better….Sent from my iPhone.” — Jimmy Fallon.

“My heart goes out for the family of Steve Jobs. What an inspiration he was to us all and a creative visionary for the world! You will be missed.” — Eva Longoria.

“We have all surfed on the wake of Steve Jobs ship. Now we must learn to sail, but we will never forget our skipper.” — Ashton Kutcher.

“I can’t even describe how devastated I am by the news of the great Steve Jobs passing. He was truly one of the most prolific artists and forward thinking people the world has ever known. My prayers and heart goes out to his family and those lucky enough to have known him.” — Mila Jovovich.

“Again and again Steve Jobs introduced us to a thing we could not have not imagined. (hash)loss.” — Mia Farrow.

“Where is the excitement gonna come from. We won’t see another you in this lifetime. Thank you for everything Steve! :o(” — Ricky Martin.

“As word passes thru the crowd of Steve Jobs’ passing, it is not lost on anyone that his inventions helped make movements like this possible.” — Michael Moore.

“RIP Steve Jobs…..what an innovator. This world will miss him.” — LeAnn Rimes.

“100 million iphones don’t lie. What an amazing man…HE is the apple of all of our i’s. We have an i everything and its all so amazing.” — Billy Bush.

“Sad news. RIP Steve Jobs.” — Ralph Macchio.

“For all of the human qualities that inspired the virtual. (hash)ripstevejobs.” — Sandra Bernhard.

* * *

‘Insanely great’ innovations

Steve Jobs’ revolutionary vision encompassed a wide swath of the show business landscape. Here’s a chronology of the major milestones:

1976: Jobs and Steve Wozniak form Apple Computer in Cupertino, Calif.

1986: Jobs buys the Graphics Group from Lucasfilm for $10 million. Later renames it Pixar Animation Studios.

1995: Pix ar releases its first feature film, “Toy Story.” Pixar’s 12 pics have earned more than $6.3 billion.

1998: Apple rolls out the iMac. Its sleek form would become a template for later Apple gadgets.

2000: Jobs becomes CEO of Apple, splitting his time between the computer maker and Pixar.

2001: Apple launches the iPod, spurring a phenomenon in mobile entertainment.

2001: Apple launches iTunes, which revives music sales and provides a new platform for studios to distribute their TV shows, movies and later games.

2001: Pixar’s RenderMan, used to create digital f/x for “Titanic,” the “Star Wars” prequels, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, becomes first software package to win an Oscar at 73rd Scientific and T
echnical Academy Awards.

2004: After negotiations with Michael Eisner fail, Jobs threatens to leave Disney once its distribution deal there expires.

2006: Disney buys Pixar for $7.4 billion, making Jobs the Mouse House’s biggest single shareholder.

2006: Disney becomes first studio to sell TV shows and movies through iTunes.

2007: Apple launches the iPhone, a mobile phone version of the iPod.

2008: Apple launches the App store which now offers more than 500,000 apps, birthing blockbusters like “Angry Birds.”

2010: Apple launches the iPad tablet, making mobile entertainment even more ubiquitous with its larger screen. Nearly 30 million have sold.

2011: Jobs resigns as CEO of Apple but remains chairman.

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