Paul Allen, one of the world’s most brilliant minds, died on Monday, October 15, 2018. According to the statement released by his representatives, the 65-year-old succumbed to complications related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system. Though best known as the co-founder of Microsoft, the company that revolutionized the personal computing industry, Allen’s legacy extends beyond technology to science, sports, and even music.
Allen and Bill Gates, Microsoft’s other co-founder, met at Lakeside School, a private middle and high school, in Seattle, Washington. Though Gates was two years Allen’s junior, the two bonded over their passion for computers. Upon graduating, Allen went to Washington State University to pursue a degree in computer science, but dropped out after two years and joined Honeywell in Boston, MA as a programmer.
In early 1975, Allen saw the Altair 8800 featured on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine. Unlike other computers, which were built for corporations, this model was designed to appeal to individual consumers. Realizing the potential of software, he convinced Gates, then a sophomore at Harvard University, to drop out and join him to start what he called Micro-Soft. After creating software to improve the performance of the Altair 8800, the pair went on to design software for the Apple II and Radio Shack’s TRS-80. The experience eventually led to the development of the Microsoft MS-DOS operating system, which currently boasts over 400 million users worldwide.
In 1983, after being diagnosed with Stage 1-A Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Allen decided to leave the company to focus on his health. However, he retained his share of Microsoft, which went on to become one of the world’s biggest technology companies, turning him and Gates, who until recently was the world’s richest man, into billionaires.
While Allen’s cancer was in remission by 1986, he never returned to the company. Instead, he spent the rest of his life donating funds to worthwhile causes and pursuing his varied interests, which ranged from space exploration to sports to music.
The numerous beneficiaries of his generosity include the Allen Institute of Brain Science, which focuses on the human brain and artificial intelligence research, and the Allen Institute for Cell Science, which investigates cures for various diseases. The philanthropist also donated funds to conduct a census to highlight the declining population of African elephants and pledged $100 million to battle Ebola in Nigeria. Closer to home, his company Vulcan Investments partnered with the US Department of Transportation to launch the Smart City Challenge – an attempt to lower greenhouse gases in American cities and towns. Through his film company, Vulcan Productions, Allen funded several award-winning documentaries to call attention to global issues like illegal ivory trade and ocean pollution.
An avid basketball fan, Allen purchased the Portland Trailblazers in 1988. Under his leadership, the team made it to the NBA Finals twice, reached the Western Conference Finals three additional times, and completed a string of 21 seasons with a postseason appearance. In 1996, Allen purchased the Seattle Seahawks to prevent them from moving to Southern California. His support has helped transform the team to one of the best in the National Football League.
The business magnate was also very passionate about music. A fan of American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jimi Hendrix since the age of 16, Allen not only mastered the electric guitar but also recorded an album with his band, the Underthinkers, in 2013. His affinity for Hendrix and rock music also led to the establishment of the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Allen also loved to sail and owned some of the world’s biggest yachts, including the 414-foot (126m) Octopus. It was large enough to accommodate two helicopters, a submarine, a swimming pool, a basketball court, and, of course, a full-size recording studio where the entrepreneur could unleash his inner Hendrix.
Unfortunately, Allen was diagnosed with the more aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in 2009. However, he managed to keep the disease in check until October 1, 2018, when he revealed to the world that the cancer had returned. While the billionaire was optimistic he would beat it yet again, the affliction had advanced too far, and he passed away just two weeks after the announcement. Though the philanthropist, who donated over $2 billion to charitable causes over his lifetime, is gone, he will continue to make an impact on the world through the Giving Pledge. The commitment, which Allen, along with 184 people from 22 countries, signed, was started by Bill Gates to get the world’s richest to donate a bulk of their wealth towards important causes.
As Allen succinctly put it, “As long as we all work together – with both urgency and determination – there are no limits to what we can achieve”
R.I.P Paul Allen
(January 21, 1953 – October 15, 2018)