The 55-year-old president of Nintendo Co., Ltd. “passed away due to a bile duct growth,” according to a statement from the company.

Satoru Iwata had been appointed as president of Nintendo in 2002, and during his tenure, the company launched several hit products—The Nintendo DS and the Wii—which brought the Kyoto-based firm tremendous success. As Wired points out, Iwata was only the fourth president of Nintendo—which got its start back in 1889 as a maker of traditional Japanese playing cards—and the first president who was not related to the Yamauchi family that founded the company.

A native of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Iwata got his start in the gaming industry fresh out of Tokyo Institute of Technology when he joined the HAL Laboratory, a developer that worked closely with Nintendo. During his time with HAL—he rose to the position of president by 1993—he worked on the well known games “Balloon Fight,” (NES) “Kirby’s Dream Land,” (Game Boy) and “Pokemon Gold and Silver” (Gameboy Color).

He joined Nintendo in 2000, and his background as a programmer and a gamer helped him push the company towards new approaches in gaming—the use of the stylus with the Nintendo DS, and the use of motion control with the Wii, which would become a blockbuster in the mid-2000s. He maintained a series of “Iwata Asks” interviews, which offer unique insights into the game development process.

Nintendo had announced that Iwata was in ill health last year, when it said that he would not be able to attend the E3 gaming show in 2014 because he was having bile duct surgery. Subsequent appearances on video showed that he had lost a lot of weight.

Nintendo has been struggling over the past several years, but according to an NBC News post, this year was the company’s first profitable one since 2011. The sudden death of the highly respected president hits the company—as well as anyone who grew up on video games—hard. Undoubtedly, there are quite a few foreigners who got some of their first impressions of Japan through video games, not to mention the generations of gamers and programmers who were inspired to get into the business thanks to Nintendo’s products.


These photos, shared by Twitter user Nochi, show flags at Nintendo’s HQ in Kyoto at half mast

Satoru Iwata’s personal philosophy seems to be best summed up in this statement, taken from his keynote speed at the Game Developers Conference in 2005, “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

—Alec Jordan