'A giant in Washington history': Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and owner of Seahawks, dead at 65
SEATTLE – Paul Allen, one of the most influential businessmen and philanthropists in Seattle history, died Monday at the age of 65.
Allen was the co-founder of Microsoft along with Bill Gates, as well as the owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, part-owner of the Seattle Sounders and founder of the Museum of Pop Culture.
"Deeply saddened by the passing of (Allen)," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Twitter. I’ll miss him greatly. His gracious leadership and tremendous inspiration will never be forgotten. The world is a better place because of Paul’s passion, commitment, and selflessness. His legacy will live on forever."
Allen died of complications from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, his company Vulcan Inc. said in a press release. Allen announced two weeks ago that he was battling the disease for the second time.
"Paul Allen stands as a giant in Washington history for the genius vision that was so important to creating Microsoft with Bill Gates," Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. "That he went on to do so much more for our state, nation and the world puts him in rarefied company."
Allen was born Jan. 21, 1953 in Seattle and met Gates while attending Lakeside School.
He later dropped out of Washington State University before going on to co-found Microsoft with Gates. Gates dropped out of Harvard, and the two founded Microsoft Corp. in 1975 to pursue the future they envisioned: A world with a computer in every home.
"Paul Allen's contributions to our company, our industry and to our community are indispensable," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on Twitter. "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."
They founded the company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and their first product was a computer language for the Altair hobby-kit personal computer, giving hobbyists a basic way to program and operate the machine.
After Gates and Allen found some success selling their programming language, MS-Basic, the Seattle natives moved their business in 1979 to Bellevue, Washington, not far from its eventual home in Redmond.
"It would be difficult to overstate the influence of Paul Allen on our community, and his impact on our collective history," King County Executive Dow Constantine said on Twitter. "As a high school kid at Lakeside School, Paul mastered the nascent technology of mainframe computers, and went on to lead a revolution."
Microsoft's big break came in 1980, when IBM Corp. decided to move into personal computers. IBM asked Microsoft to provide the operating system. The decision thrust Microsoft onto the throne of technology and the two Seattle-natives became billionaires. Both later dedicated themselves to philanthropy.
With his sister Jody Allen in 1986, he founded Vulcan, the investment firm that oversees his business and philanthropic efforts. He founded the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the aerospace firm Stratolaunch, which has built a colossal airplane designed to launch satellites into orbit. He has also backed research into nuclear-fusion power.
“My brother was a remarkable individual on every level," Jody Allen, said in a statement. "While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much-loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend. Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us – and so many others – we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day.”
Allen bought the Portland Trail Blazers in 1988, and eventually funded their arena, which is now known as the Moda Center, which he owns. He bought the Seahawks from Ken Behring in 1996 after Behring's failed attempt to move the team to the Los Angeles area. The Seahawks went to three Super Bowls and won one of them during Allen's ownership.
"Paul Allen was the driving force behind keeping the NFL in the Pacific Northwest," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. " His vision led to the construction of CenturyLink Field and the building of a team that played in three Super Bowls, winning the championship in Super Bowl XLVIII."
Gates and Allen didn't invent the operating system. To meet IBM's needs, they spent $50,000 to buy one known as QDOS from another programmer, Tim Paterson. Eventually the product, refined by Microsoft — and renamed DOS, for Disk Operating System — became the core of IBM PCs and their clones, catapulting Microsoft into its dominant position in the PC industry.
The first versions of two classic Microsoft products, Microsoft Word and the Windows operating system, were released in 1983. By 1991, Microsoft's operating systems were used by 93 percent of the world's personal computers.
The Windows operating system is now used on most of the world's desktop computers, and Word is the cornerstone of the company's prevalent Office products.
Microsoft was thrust onto the throne of technology and soon Gates and Allen became billionaires.
Allen later joined the list of America's wealthiest people who pledged to give away the bulk of their fortunes to charity. In 2010, he publicly pledged to give away the majority of his fortune, saying he believed "those fortunate to achieve great wealth should put it to work for the good of humanity."
"Paul was a major philanthropist who believed in giving at home," Inslee said. "Seattle is dotted with the results of his philanthropy and investments, from the unbelievable work of the Allen Institute for Brain Science to the preservation of the world-class Cinerama movie theater. He brought us a Super Bowl championship, a reverence for Jimi Hendrix and a vision for Seattle that today is home to some of the world’s most innovative biotech research and has been the cradle of the city’s economic boom.
“He cared about the larger world, too, stepping up to fight Ebola and working to preserve endangered animals. He exposed the dark depths of oceans and pioneered privately funded space flight."
When he released his 2011 memoir, "Idea Man," he allowed 60 Minutes inside his home on Lake Washington, across the water from Seattle, revealing collections that ranged from the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock to vintage warplanes and a 300-foot yacht with its own submarine.
Allen served as Microsoft's executive vice president of research and new product development until 1983, when he resigned after being diagnosed with cancer.
"To be 30 years old and have that kind of shock — to face your mortality — really makes you feel like you should do some of the things that you haven't done yet," Allen said in a 2000 book, "Inside Out: Microsoft in Our Own Words," published to celebrate 25 years of Microsoft.
His influence is firmly imprinted on the cultural landscape of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, from the bright metallic Museum of Pop Culture designed by architect Frank Gehry to the computer science center at the University of Washington that bears his name.
Allen was hooked on science fiction at age 11 after discovering Robert Heinlein's "Rocketship Galileo" at the Wedgwood branch.
"There was an area where they had juvenile science fiction, kind of tucked into a corner,” Allen once told Seattle journalist Rebekah Denn. “And my mother used to take me up there...both my parents were librarians at different times, so I grew up around books, and pretty soon that became part of my character, too, and that love for books and reading."
In a way, Allen's many interests were intertwined.
"I can't draw any direct line between all of that and Microsoft, but it certainly probably encouraged me to think and create in out-of-the-box ways, which I try to continue to do," he told Denn.
Vulcan Inc. said there was no information yet on a funeral or memorial service.
Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf released a statement Monday afternoon:
“All of us who had the honor of working with Paul feel inexpressible loss today. He possessed a remarkable intellect and a passion to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems, with the conviction that creative thinking and new approaches could make profound and lasting impact.
"Millions of people were touched by his generosity, his persistence in pursuit of a better world, and his drive to accomplish as much as he could with the time and resources at his disposal.
"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.
"Paul loved Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. The impact of Paul’s efforts can be seen here at every turn. But the true impact of his vision and generosity is evident around the globe.
"Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. This isn’t the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul’s family. We will continue to work on furthering Paul’s mission and the projects he entrusted to us. There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes or museums.
"Today we mourn our boss, mentor and friend whose 65 years were too short – and acknowledge the honor it has been to work alongside someone whose life transformed the world.”