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Mario Segale, Namesake for Nintendo’s Mario, Dies at 84

The real-life inspiration behind the name for Nintendo’s most famous video game character has died. He was 84.

Mario Segale died on Oct. 27 surrounded by his family, according to his obituary. The son of first-generation Italian immigrant farmers, he was the founder of M.A. Segale, a heavy construction general contractor in the northwestern U.S. He also created Segale Business Park in Tukwila, Wash. Decades later, he sold M.A. Segale so his family could concentrate on its real estate company, Segale Properties.

Legend has it Segale rented out a warehouse that later became Nintendo’s U.S. headquarters, according to PCWorld. The company, which was struggling financially at the time, was preparing to launch “Donkey Kong” in the West. When Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa noticed physical similarities between the game’s plumber protagonist and Segale, they started calling the character “Mario.”

The rest is video game history. “Super Mario” is now a household name. The long-running series has reportedly sold more than 500 million copies during its lifespan, making it the best-selling video game franchise of all time.

“Nintendo of America is sad to hear of Mr. Segale’s passing, and we extend our sympathies to his family and friends,” Nintendo said in a statement to Variety.

Segale was never entirely comfortable with being the muse for a pop-culture icon, according to his obituary. “While he was the inspiration for the name of Nintendo’s ‘Super Mario’ from when they were tenants in his business park in the 1970’s, he always ducked the notoriety and wanted to be known instead for what he accomplished in his life,” it said.

Segale leaves behind his wife of 62 years, Donna, four children, and nine grandchildren.

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