John Kirby, the ex-Nintendo lawyer Kirby was named after, dies aged 79


Due to complications with cancer.

John Kirby, the ex-Nintendo lawyer the Kirby character was named after, has died aged 79.

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John Kirby. Image credit New York Times.

According to an obituary published in the New York Times, Kirby passed away on 12nd October 2019 surrounded by friends and family due to complications of a blood cancer.

During Kirby’s long tenure with Nintendo, he successfully defended the company during a trademark and copyright infringement suit brought by Universal City Studios over the Donkey Kong character. The 1984 case was about whether Donkey Kong violated Universal’s copyright for the King Kong character. Nintendo won, securing Donkey Kong’s future for generations to come. Legendary game developer Shigeru Miyamoto named the Kirby character in his honour. According to the Times’ obit, Nintendo also gave Kirby a sailboat named the Donkey Kong.

Earlier in his career, Kirby worked at the Department of Justice as the special assistant to the head of the Civil Rights Division, during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. There he did some remarkable stuff:

From the obit:

“At the Department of Justice, where he first worked as a summer intern, he gathered voting records throughout the South that demonstrated evidence of wide-spread discrimination against African-Americans. His discovery of methods such as literacy tests specifically designed to exclude African-Americans from voting helped form the basis of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 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.”

According to the Times, in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Kirby Scholarship Fund at Fordham University, the Merton College Charitable Corporation and The Joseph F. Cullman, Jr. Institute for Patient Experience at Mount Sinai Hospital.



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