Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

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Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and former CEO, passed away on Wednesday. He was 56.

“Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being,” a statement on Apple’s website says. “Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”

(PHOTO ESSAY: The Long, Extraordinary Career of Steve Jobs)

Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955 and adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. While working as a summer employee at Hewlett-Packard during high school, he met Steve Wozniak, and they soon became friends.

The duo would create Apple Computer in 1976 with Ronald Wayne, who left the company shortly after the creation of the Apple I, their first computer. Jobs and Wozniak went on to create the Apple II, which sold nearly 6 million units throughout its lifetime.

Apple enjoyed success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, moving from command-line operating systems to the graphical user interface found in Apple’s Lisa and the far more popular Macintosh.

But in 1985, Steve Jobs was fired by John Sculley, who Jobs had hired away from Pepsi-Cola two years earlier to serve as Apple’s CEO. Jobs told Stanford University graduates in 2005 that being fired was the best thing that could have happened to him, because “it freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

In Jobs’ years away from Apple, he bought a company from Lucasfilm that would eventually become Pixar. He also founded another computer company, NeXT Computer, whose powerful workstations were intended for universities and research institutions. Although  NeXT was a commercial failure, Apple bought the company in 1996, and Steve Jobs returned to the company he had founded two decades earlier.

Jobs’ return to Apple sparked a transformation within the company. Apple’s iMac computers, which combined a monitor and the CPU in a colorful shell, were huge hits, and with the iBook laptop, Apple began to earn the geek chik reputation for which it’s known today.

Jobs, meanwhile, earned a reputation for showmanship. His keynote speeches (or “Stevenotes”) have become Silicon Valley legend, marked by colorful superlatives to describe Apple’s latest creations and Jobs’ tendency to save a big surprise–”one more thing”–for the very end. The phrase “reality distortion field,” coined by Bud Tribble in 1981 to describe Jobs’ talent for charismatic persuasion, was later used to describe the way Jobs introduced new Apple products.

The biggest strategic shift at Apple began in 2001, with the launch of the iPod and the Apple Store. Anchored by its music products and its retail visibility, Apple went mainstream, revolutionizing the music industry while dominating both the MP3 player and MP3 download markets.

Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, and Apple temporarily put Tim Cook, then the head of worldwide sales and operations, in charge of the company. Since then, Jobs avoided discussing the specifics of his health, but he took a six-month medical leave in January 2009, and underwent a liver transplant the following June. Although Jobs returned later that year, he stopped running day-to-day operations in January 2011, once again putting Tim Cook in charge.

In August, Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO, during the height of the company’s success. Steve Jobs’ Apple ushered in the era of the consumer smartphone with the iPhone, and made computing casual with the iPad, the first tablet to gain mass-market appeal. Today, Apple is the second most valuable company in the world, behind only Exxon.

Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife Laurene, his children Reed Paul, Erin Sienna and Eve, and his daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs from an earlier relationship.

“We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief,” Jobs’ family said in a statement.

Apple is accepting thoughts, memories and condolences at rememberingsteve@apple.com.

(PHOTOS: TIME’s Steve Jobs Covers)