The Life and Times of Apple’s Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs has passed away, just 56 years old, and with his passing, we’ve come to the end of not just an era but the life of one of the computer industry’s brightest luminaries—and, some might say, its foremost mavericks.

Jobs had stepped down as CEO of Apple slightly more than a month ago, handing the leadership baton to Tim Cook and accepting a position as chairman of Apple’s board.

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” wrote Jobs at the time in his resignation letter. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

(MORE: Technology’s Great Reinventor: Steve Jobs (1955–2011))

Jobs had been on medical leave since January 17, 2011 for unknown reasons, but he’d battled pancreatic cancer for years, appearing to win that battle in 2004, but eventually undergoing a liver transplant in April 2009 and taking periodic leaves of absence from Apple for medical reasons thereafter. Several had speculated his health had taken a turn for the worse, but Jobs was deeply protective of his private life—it’s still not clear what he ultimately died from.

“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” said Apple’s Board of Directors in a statement Wednesday evening. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.” The company replaced pictures of newly announced products on its website with a black and white photo of jobs beside his birth and death years.

The Steve Jobs most people think of today is probably the one clad in trademark black turtlenecks and bluejeans, walking around a stage and touting some of the computer industry’s most striking products: the iPod, the iMac, the iPhone, the iPad. Any product with an “i” in front of it owes a debt to what Jobs accomplished in his latter years with the company he originally cofounded 35 years ago.

Steve Jobs was 21 and a college dropout back in 1976 when he and childhood pal Steve Wozniak, 26, launched Apple, becoming a multimillionaire by age 25. Just about anyone in their late thirties today probably remembers the Apple II (released in 1977), the first home “personal computer” with color graphics, a staple in school classrooms for years. And in 1984, we tuned into Super Bowl XVIII and said hello to the Macintosh (remember the hurtling sledgehammer?), the computer that wore a smiley face before turning them sideways in instant messaging clients was hip. You could have one with a generous (in 1984) 512K for a bargain $3,195.

(VIDEO: Steve Jobs Career in 2 minutes)

And then things went strangely south for Jobs and Apple. Jobs had tapped Pepsi to bring in John Sculley as Apple’s CEO in 1983, but when industry sales plummeted toward the end of 1984, the two clashed, leading to a nasty power struggle that culminated in Apple’s board of directors asking Jobs to resign in 1985. After leaving Apple, Jobs went on to co-found animation studio Pixar in 1986 and NeXT Inc., a company that built futuristic UNIX-like computers. Everyone knows what happened with Pixar (Jobs is credited as an executive producer of 1995’s Toy Story), but it was at NeXT that the forerunner of the Mac’s next-gen operating system, OS X, was born.

When Apple purchased NeXT for $429 million in 1996 and brought Jobs back as quasi-CEO—the advent of “era number two”—NeXT’s operating system, dubbed “NeXTstep,” essentially became what we now know as OS X, the tenth iteration of Apple’s Macintosh computer operating system.

The rest, as they say, is history. Over the following 15 years Jobs took Apple from its position as a diminished technological player with dwindling computer market share to a global powerhouse and multimedia empire that, as of last April, managed to surpass Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world.

Think of all that’s happened in those past 15 years: PowerMacs and PowerBooks, MacBooks, MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs, iPods and iTunes, iPads, iPhones and Apple TVs, all perennially trotted out by Jobs himself in his signature black turtleneck and jeans.

Needless to say, he will be missed by many, and mourned throughout the world.

MORE: Apple Will Still Be Apple, Even Without Steve Jobs

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.