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Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Dead at 65

Music benefactor and founder of Museum of Pop Culture succumbs to cancer

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Microsoft co-founder and Museum of Pop Culture founder Paul Allen has died at age 65.

Mat Hayward

Paul Allen, the tech tycoon who co-founded Microsoft and became one of the world’s wealthiest men, died on Monday. He was 65 years old. The cause was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to a statement from Allen’s company Vulcan Inc. 

In a statement, Allen’s sister Jody remembered him as “a remarkable individual on every level.” “While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much-loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend,” she said. “Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us — and so many others — we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day.”

“Paul Allen’s contributions to our company, our industry and to our community are indispensable,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote in a statement on behalf of the company. “As co-founder of Microsoft, in his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world. I have learned so much from him – his inquisitiveness, curiosity and push for high standards is something that will continue to inspire me and all of us at Microsoft. Our hearts are with Paul’s family and loved ones. Rest in peace.”

Allen was born in Seattle in 1951; he met Bill Gates in high school, where the two men connected over their love of computers. The two eventually dropped out of college to found Microsoft in 1975. Five years later, Microsoft inked a deal to supply IBM computers with an operating system, which started the company on its path to becoming a tech giant. 

However, Allen left the company not long after, resigning his position in 1983 but maintaining his shares, which paid off when Microsoft went public in 1986, and his position on the board. Allen founded other companies, including Vulcan Inc., and became active as an investor and philanthropist.

In a statement following Allen’s death, Gates said, “I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Paul Allen. From our early days together at Lakeside School, through our partnership in the creation of Microsoft, to some of our joint philanthropic projects over the years, Paul was a true partner and dear friend. Personal computing would not have existed without him. But Paul wasn’t content with starting one company. He channeled his intellect and compassion into a second act focused on improving people’s lives and strengthening communities in Seattle and around the world. He was fond of saying, ‘If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it.’ That’s the kind of person he was.”

Gates continued, “Paul loved life and those around him, and we all cherished him in return. He deserved much more time, but his contributions to the world of technology and philanthropy will live on for generations to come. I will miss him tremendously.”

“[Allen] possessed a remarkable intellect and a passion to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems, with the conviction that creative thinking and new approaches could make profound and lasting impact,” Vulcan Inc. said in a statement. “…Paul’s life was diverse and lived with gusto. It reflected his myriad interests in technology, music and the arts, biosciences and artificial intelligence, conservation and in the power of shared experience – in a stadium or a neighborhood – to transform individual lives and whole communities.”

An avid music fan and benefactor, Allen founded the Experience Music Project in 2000 (later renamed the EMP Museum and, currently, the Museum of Pop Culture). “You know who sings and plays just like [Jimi] Hendrix? Paul Allen,” Quincy Jones told Vulture in February. “I went on a trip on his yacht, and he had David Crosby, Joe Walsh, Sean Lennon — all those crazy motherfuckers. Then on the last two days, Stevie Wonder came on with his band and made Paul come up and play with him — he’s good, man.” Allen collected numerous classic guitars, including those owned by Hendrix and Woody Guthrie.

“RIP to my dear friend (& killer guitar player) Paul Allen. Your genius & generosity has & will forever be felt by mankind,” Jones tweeted.

Allen showcased his guitar skills alongside his band the Underthinkers on his 2013 debut LP Everywhere at Once, an LP that featured all-star guests like Joe Walsh, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Chrissie Hynde, Derek Trucks and more.

In 2017, he founded the Upstream Festival, a new fest billed as “Seattle’s South by Southwest” that highlighted regional talents. The festival returned to the city in June of this year.

Allen was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982, but he recovered from the cancer. Allen, who was diagnosed with and overcame non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009, announced earlier this month that he had once again started treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after the cancer returned.

The billionaire also owned the Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Seahawks, whose personnel and players both expressed their condolences on social media. “We miss you. We thank you. We love you,” the Trail Blazers tweeted, while the Seahawks retweeted Allen’s quote, “As long as we work together – with both urgency and determination – there are no limits to what we can achieve.”

“Paul Allen was the ultimate trail blazer – in business, philanthropy and in sports,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “As one of the longest-tenured owners in the NBA, Paul brought a sense of discovery and vision to every league matter large and small. He was generous with his time on committee work, and his expertise helped lay the foundation for the league’s growth internationally and our embrace of new technologies. He was a valued voice who challenged assumptions and conventional wisdom and one we will deeply miss as we start a new season without him.”

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