NEW YORK, ( TheStreet) -- Steve Jobs, the gadget guru who led Apple ( AAPL), transformed movie animation and introduced the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad tablet died Wednesday at the age of 56.

A Silicon Valley native who dropped out of college to follow his interest in technology and hone an uncanny talent for aesthetics, Jobs became known as an uncompromising visionary who led Apple to be the highest valued company in the world.
Steve Jobs

Jobs was the defining influence on Apple's rise, fall and phoenix-like rebirth. Known for his black mock-turtleneck and his "one more thing" on-stage product introductions, Jobs became the personality, the pitchman and the prophet for his company.

"Jobs and his team have made Apple the primal force in shaping consumers' technology-driven 'way of life,'" wrote JPMorgan analyst Mark Moskowitz in a recent research note.

Though Jobs' health had been an overriding public concern in recent years, the last decade of his life was an astonishingly productive and successful period for Apple. The stock rose 4,300% over the past 10 years as Apple sold millions of iconic new devices, and more than a 10 billion downloads on iTunes.

But time ran out for Jobs.

In his resignation letter in August, Jobs said " that day has come" and handed the CEO job to his operations chief Tim Cook. The move came during his third medical leave since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004.

Apple and Jobs treated his health issues as a private matter. Jobs didn't go public with his cancer diagnosis until 2005 when he revealed the lessons of that story in a speech to Stanford graduates.

"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," Jobs said during his speech.

Steven Paul Jobs, 56, was born on Feb. 24, 1955 in San Francisco. The child of two grad students, Joanne Schieble and a Syrian named Abdulfattah Jandali, he was adopted as an infant by Paul and Clara Jobs. He was raised in Cupertino, Calif., where he based Apple.

Jobs, who quit Reed College because he felt it was wasting the money of his working-class parents, spent time hanging around the budding West Coast personal computer scene. In 1976, at the age of 21, while tinkering around in the shadows of Hewlett Packard ( HPQ), Jobs says he and his friend Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer in his parents' garage.

After creating a series of novel but unsuccessful computers, Apple unveiled the Macintosh in 1984. The affordable, all-in-one computer and monitor became a breakthrough product for the company.

Even though Apple made a distinctive mark in the rise of personal computers, by the 80s, the market was consolidating around Microsoft's ( MSFT) operating system.

In 1985, with Apple's share price at an all-time, split-adjusted low under $2, Jobs was forced out of the company he co-created.

This helped set up probably the greatest achievement of Jobs' career -- fixing his greatest failure.

"I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me," Jobs told the Stanford grads.

Jobs called his ouster "devastating," but looking back he said it "freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." Jobs pointed to three of his greatest achievements at that time: He started a computer company called NeXT. He acquired Lucasfilms and created Pixar, which was later purchased by Disney ( DIS). And he met his wife Laurene Powell Jobs.

Toy Story

Pixar and its predecessor Lucasfilms was a pioneering venture in cinematic computer animation that originally helped with the special effects in the "Star Wars" movie series. Under Jobs and animator John Lasseter Pixar created its first blockbuster movie "Toy Story." Disney eventually purchased Pixar, but characteristic of Jobs and his belief in brands, Pixar kept its name and established itself as a successful movie studio.

Jobs became a millionaire at 25, and yet while selling Apple products was his primary gift, it was the Disney acquisition that showered him with his greatest riches. Jobs' net worth was estimated to be $8.3 billion in 2010 with $4.4 billion of that in Disney shares and about $2.2 billion in Apple shares.

In 1997, a year after Apple acquired NeXT, Jobs returned to run the company. Years of unsuccessful product launches and an unfocused approach to operating systems left Apple in disarray. Jobs came in with the nearly autonomous authority to redefine the company a he saw fit.

Apple 2.0

Back at Apple, Jobs, along with designer Jonathan Ive soon began what would become a winning streak of new products. The first was the brightly-colored translucent iMac computer. That was followed by the iPod music player, the iPhone and the iPad.

Jobs became known for his incredibly high standards and an unbending pursuit of excellence. He helped foster a competitive culture within Apple by hand picking employees he viewed as the company's 100 top achievers, as Fortune reported.

His second run at Apple also held challenges.

Perhaps because of the perception that he's singularly focused on innovation and design, Jobs managed to avoid the stain of corruption and self-dealing that marred others.

Teflon

During a 2001 insider stock option backdating controversy at Apple, Jobs managed to keep a very low profile. Eventually, in 2007, after two former Apple officials took the fall for the scandal Jobs was cleared by the Securities and Exchange Commission of any involvement.

Yet when products became the focus of controversy Jobs took front and center.

During Antennagate, when it was obvious that the iPhone 4 had a flawed antenna and watchdogs like Consumer Reports called for a fix, Jobs defended the phone. He successfully denied there was a problem, avoiding a costly recall and Apple ultimately fixed the phone.

This stern denial and quiet fix approach seemed to resound well with Apple fans who appreciated Jobs authority to bark back at critics with the understanding that he would see that everything was taken care of.

Jobs' deft hand with product design, his astonishing attention to detail, and his ability to create the sales message that resonated with gadget buyers, put him on a somewhat higher plane than his business peers. It also made it easy for observers to herald him as a Thomas Edison of our time.

Jobs made assurances that his imprint on Apple would continue. Up to the end, he was still actively building Apple's future and stayed involved with many ambitious projects like a massive new circular glass headquarters for the company, and new products like the iTV, a hybrid computer HDTV.

Jobs' death comes at a particularly dismal time in the U.S. economic cycle with 9% unemployment, record poverty and a general fear that the nation's ever-expanding economic prosperity may have stalled.

Big-picture authors like Tom Friedman ("That Used to be Us") have highlighted concerns that the country is no longer the hotbed of innovation. Apple, led by Steve Jobs, had always been a key rebuttal to that argument.

Jobs is survived by his wife Laurene and three children: Reed, Erin and Eve.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.

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