Published 9:22 PM EDT Oct 15, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO – Paul Allen, a technology pioneer who helped launch the personal computer revolution as co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates, has died, according to his company, Vulcan Inc.
The cause was complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a condition that surfaced in 2009 and returned just a few weeks ago. Allen was 65.
On Oct. 1, Allen wrote a short but upbeat note on his personal website, noting that "I’ve begun treatment & my doctors are optimistic that I will see a good result. Appreciate the support I’ve received & count on it as I fight this challenge."
Washington Gov. Paul Inslee called Allen "a giant in Washington history."
Gates, describing himself as "heartbroken" in a statement released by his office, said his friend "wasn't content starting one company, he channeled his intellect and compassion into a second act focused on improving people's lives and strengthening communities in Seattle and around the world.
"He was fond of saying, 'If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it,'" Gates wrote. "That's the kind of person he was."
Allen helped found Microsoft in 1975 when he was 22, joining his longtime Seattle-area computer pal in a venture that transformed society.
While Gates went on to run Microsoft for decades, finally leaving to focus on his philanthropic efforts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Allen left the upstart company in 1982 because of an illness and never returned full-time.
Instead, Allen, who was worth around $20 billion, quickly pivoted to a range of technology investments as well as a passion for cultural ventures such as the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
Allen also was known as the owner of numerous mega-yachts and sports franchises, including the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
Vulcan CEO Bill Hilt, speaking for his company as well as the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers, Stratolaunch Systems, the Allen Institute and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, said in a statement that "Paul’s life was diverse and lived with gusto.
"It reflected his myriad interests in technology, music and the arts, biosciences and artificial intelligence, conservation and in the power of shared experience – in a stadium or a neighborhood – to transform individual lives and whole communities," Hilt said.
Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, said on the Vulcan site that her brother was a remarkable individual “on every level. While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend.
More: Seahawks, Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen dies of cancer at 65
"Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern," she wrote. "For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends.”
The non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that took Allen's life is a type of cancer that develops in the body’s white blood cells and lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system. It most often strikes adults, though children can also get it.
There are two types, indolent, which is slow growing and aggressive, which can spread rapidly. It is typically treated with chemotherapy or immunotherapy and is considered highly treatable especially if discovered early.
Friends pay tribute
Tributes to Allen poured in Monday, including those from current and former Microsoft leaders.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on his LinkedIn page that Allen’s "contributions to our company, our industry and to our community are indispensable. As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world."
More: Sports figures mourn Paul Allen after Seahawks, Trail Blazers owner's death
Past CEO Steve Ballmer tweeted that "Paul was a truly wonderful, bright and inspiring person—- and a great friend. I will miss him."
Actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio tweeted his condolences, noting that Allen was a strong advocate for environmental protection and "his team at Vulcan played a pivotal role in developing the Shark Conservation Fund alongside LDF (DiCaprio's foundation). His legacy lives on via his incredible work as a philanthropist and investor."
Music producer Quincy Jones tweeted "RIP to my dear friend (& killer guitar player) Paul Allen. Your genius & generosity has & will forever be felt by mankind."
Earlier this year, Jones regaled New York magazine's Vulture blog with tales of sailing as a guest on one of Allen's yachts, noting that Allen could play and sing "just like (Jimi) Hendrix," another Seattle-area legend whose guitars Allen collected.
The story of Allen and Gates founding Microsoft is in some ways even more incredible than the tale of how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created Apple. While the latter duo met as young adults, Allen and Gates started their friendship as teens.
Allen and Gates met when they were both students at Lakeside, an elite private school in Seattle that begins in fifth grade and continues through high school. They first met in 1967 when Allen was 14 and Gates was 12.
Nearly a decade later, Allen showed Gates an article in the magazine Popular Electronics about the Altair 8800, a build-it-yourself computer kit that needed a programming language. The duo intuitively realized there was a possible business in building software for these newly popular home computers.
In 1975, the friends opened a small office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from which they began to sell their software, a computer language product dubbed Microsoft. At the time, Allen worked at Honeywell as a programmer. Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard, where he was a student.
Allen is also credited with naming the company, which he did by combining microcomputer and software. At the time many computers were room-filling behemoths and the type of computer they were targeting were called microcomputers, or the precursor to the modern PC.
In 1979, Allen and Gates moved their company back home, to Bellevue, Washington, just across Lake Washington from Seattle. Microsoft quickly cemented the Pacific Northwest city as a high-tech magnet, rivaled only by their Apple rivals down south in Cupertino, Calif.
But where Apple's fortunes fluctuated as Jobs used his marketing prowess to push against the almost unrivaled hegemony of Microsoft's products, Microsoft's exponential growth minted countless millionaires and even billionaires.
Microsoft's biggest speed bump came at the turn of the Millennium as a result of a Department of Justice anti-monopoly suit.
But by that point, Allen had been long gone from the company he had helped create, dabbling instead in everything from space exploration to collecting famous rock guitars to owning big league teams.
Allen's influence on his hometown was particularly outsized.
In the early '90s, Allen was part of a group that proposed an urban project called ADD SPACE The Commons, a large, Central Park-like expanses that would have turned some of the area between the Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle, and downtown into a broad urban oasis of green.
Allen lent $20 million to the plan, which was used to buy up low-rise industrial land in the area. But Seattle twice voted down the proposal, in 1995 and 1996.
In what turned out to be a major irony, one of the main concerns at the time was that the area around the park would be turned into office developments. After the votes, much of the land reverted to Allen’s ownership. His Vulcan Real Estate company went on to lease Amazon 11 buildings there in 2007, totaling 1.6 million square feet of office space
That was the beginning of Amazon’s dominating move to the area just north of downtown, where it today has 40 buildings and has totally transformed the cityscape.
Before urban projects, Allen, like others tech leaders including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, also was fascinated by space travel.
He was the sole investor in SpaceShipOne, the first privately-funded ship to put a civilian into suborbital space around the Earth. That effort, led by Burt Rutan, won the Ansari X Prize of $10 million in 2004.
Allen went on to found Vulcan Aerospace in 2011, which is building space plane for private low Earth orbit launches.
Allen was also instrumental in expanding the search for extraterrestrial life, or SETI, after Congress in the 1990s cut NASA funding for radio telescopes that were scanning the skies for signals from other planets.
He donated $30 million to build the Allen Telescope Array, a group of radio telescopes about 200 miles north of Sacramento. The telescopes sped up SETI searches by a factor of more than 100, according to the SETI Institute, a research contractor to NASA and the National Science Foundation.
But it wasn't just science fiction that attracted Allen's billions.
The investor also put his money toward medical research. In a 2012 interview with Seattle-area TV station KING 5, Allen talked about donating $300 million to brain research and reflected modestly on his role in the technological revolution that unfolded in his lifetime.
"If you think back when Bill Gates and I started out, nobody had personal computers," Allen said. "Now people have multiples ones and a smartphone that's one. So I've just been fortunate enough to see some of these changes happen, and maybe help make some of them happen."
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