John Kirby, Famous Lawyer And Original Namesake For Nintendo’s Iconic Kirby Character, Passes Away

John Kirby, Famous Lawyer And Original Namesake For Nintendo’s Iconic Kirby Character, Passes Away
Credit: Nintendo

Nintendo’s iconic Kirby character, one of the most famous in the Nintendo pantheon, was first named after an American lawyer. John Kirby helped the gaming company deal with a major copyright issue in the early 1980s. On Wednesday night, Kirby passed away. He was 79 years old.

Kirby’s cause of death was complications from blood cancer. The lawyer is perhaps best known for defending Nintendo in 1984 when Universal Studios sued the gaming company. Universal claimed the Donkey Kong game infringed on its copyright for the King Kong movies and all related material. Kirby was able to win the case for Nintendo. In gratitude, the gaming company created the main character of Kirby’s Dream Land in his name.

Kirby was able to argue his case after he realized that Universal had already given up the name King Kong to the public domain. He was even able to show that the film studio has proved it themselves in a similar 1975 lawsuit.

In addition to having the opportunity to be the namesake of one of the most famous characters in Nintendo history, Kirby was also given a sailboat by the gaming company. The name of the boat was “Donkey Kong.” John Kirby’s obituary says he greatly enjoyed taking the boat out on the sea with friends and family.

Kirby’s lived a long and eventful life. His obituary, first posted in the New York Times, notes that his proudest moment came during his work with the Department of Justice during the ’60s. There he worked as a special assistant to the head of the Civil Rights division. His work helped lead to the creation of the Voting Rights Act, which Congress passed in 1965.

After his work with the Justice Department, Kirby joined a private law firm doing work with a focus on big business. It was during this time that he picked up the case to defend Nintendo from Universal.

Kirby was also known for his working with Pepsi and America Online. During a long and storied legal career, Kirby argued in front of the Supreme Court and served as the chairman of his law firm.

His video-game namesake first appeared in Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992. The game was a 2D platformer featuring a small blob-like character with stubs for arms and feet. Kirby’s most iconic ability is the power to inhale enemies and to fly by inflating like a balloon. In later titles, Kirby would gain the ability to mimic the traits of his enemies by inhaling them. It will remain a fitting tribute long after his death.