He was the visionary techie, the marketing genius, the choleric corporate leader who could never quite scrub the rebel out of his soul.
But most of all, standing there in his black mock turtleneck at the intersection of passion and technology, Steve Jobs seemed to know intuitively what consumers needed in their lives, even before they themselves could put a finger on it.
Decades after co-creating one of the planet's most storied companies, then leaving it behind, then returning to reinvent it and pump it full of high-voltage ideas until it became the world's most valuable tech company, Jobs leaves a cultural landscape forever altered by his gadgetry and gusto.
"I consider Steve a god," said Bob Metcalfe, a Silicon Valley pioneer who knew Jobs in the early days, turned down a job offer from him, then went on to found 3Com. "Today's a sad day, because I assume he's not doing well. But Steve's the consummate entrepreneur, and he had this enormously persuasive ability to create this new world we all live in, thanks to his insanely great products. It has been an awesome thing to watch."
Equal parts product designer, mischievous impresario, turnaround specialist and salesman without peer, Jobs helped revolutionize not just computing, but one industry after another.
After being forced out of Apple in 1985, Jobs began a new phase of his life that would soon be riddled with blockbusters. His purchase of Pixar led to a series of hits, including "Toy Story." When Jobs returned to Apple and became CEO in 2000, the hits continued with a series of products that revolutionized consumer electronics.
First, the iPod reinvented the personal music player, and the iTunes Store helped turn the music industry upside down. Then came the iPhone, which sent the smartphone revolution into overdrive. Finally, in 2009, the iPad arrived, creating an entire new tech category and quickly becoming the go-to device for millions of consumers who couldn't figure out how they could have ever lived without the thing.
A college dropout, a Buddhist and a son of adoptive parents, Jobs started Apple Computer with friend Steve Wozniak in the Jobs family garage in Silicon Valley in the late 1970s.
Despite his subsequent success with the Mac, Jobs' relationship with internal management soured, and in 1985 the board removed most of his powers, and he left the company, selling all but one share of his Apple holdings.
Apple's fortunes waned after that. However, its purchase of NeXT -- the computer company Jobs founded after leaving Apple -- in 1997 brought Jobs back into the fold.
From the start, it's been nearly impossible to find the line where Apple ends and Jobs begins. In many ways, his dynamic and at times brusque personality seemed to define the culture of the company he co-founded -- scrappy, boldly imaginative, secretive and competitively cutthroat.
As Apple's chief, Jobs didn't simply crank out fancy gadgets. His imagination and inflexibly high standards essentially changed the way millions of people around the world use and relate to technology, putting Apple at the pinnacle of the global digital culture as the new century dawned.
Wozniak said it is hard to overstate the impact Jobs has had on technology, business and on Wozniak's life.
"What he's done carries on throughout the entire world," Wozniak said. "Those who follow his example are the ones who are going to succeed, including Apple."
With Jobs' departure, speculation about how Apple might fare without him will play out in real time. Eventually Jobs' absence could sap much of the magic he has created at Apple through the sheer force of his bigger-than-life personality -- or not.
In his recent book, "The Steve Jobs Way," former Apple executive Jay Elliott writes, "I tell people that Steve is not replaceable as a charismatic, visionary leader of a consumer-product-centric company, but that he can be replaced by a triumvirate to carry on his legacy. Apple will have a new CEO, but he, or she, will fill only one part of Steve's role."