Donkey Kong

John Kirby, who Nintendo named one of their most popular characters (Kirby) in honor of, has passed away at age 79.

According to a New York Times obituary published on October 4, Kirby passed on October 2 due to complications of Myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a blood cancer.

Although Kirby’s legal achievements go beyond Nintendo, to Pepsi, America Online, and the Department of Justice, many gamers know him from his defense of Donkey Kong in the 1980s.

In 1984, Kirby successfully defended Nintendo against a trademark and copyright infringement suit brought by Universal City Studios, where Universal claimed that Donkey Kong‘s likeness was benefiting from similarities to King Kong.

Long before his tenure with Nintendo, Kirby worked as a special assistant to the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (US). At that time, in the 1960s, the civil rights movement was especially tumultuous.

Kirby’s obituary outlines Nintendo’s appreciation for his legal work, where the following is written:

John continued to represent Nintendo for many years, and Nintendo’s lead designer Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda franchises, named the popular video-game character “Kirby” in his honor. Nintendo also gave John a sailboat, aptly named the “Donkey Kong,” which he took great pleasure in sailing with his family on the waters by his homes in Westhampton Beach, and later Shippan Point, Connecticut.

The New York Times also wrote of Kirby, “While at the Civil Rights Division, he also found himself personally escorting African-American children into segregated schools, surrounded by federal marshals. Later, he was appointed Deputy Director to the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, founded in the aftermath of the killings of four students at Kent State University.”

Kirby’s work has left a long-lasting impact on the Nintendo brand but extended far beyond just gaming.

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Craig Snyder
Craig fell in love with video games after being spoiled with all of the NES games he could ever want as a kid, and his passion for gaming continues decades later. After discovering a knack for writing in grade school, the two have come together nicely for him. River City Ransom and Final Fantasy VII are his jams.

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