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Commodore founder Jack Tramiel dies

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2012-04-10

Jack Tramiel photo by Alex Handy

Jack Tramiel photo by Alex Handy

Entrepreneur and Holocaust survivor Jack Tramiel, who was the man behind such 1980s home computers as Commodore's Vic 20 and C-64, as well as the Atari ST, has died aged 83.

Mr Tramiel, who was born Jacek Trzmiel in Lodz, Poland, emigrated to the US after surviving Auschwitz and losing his parents in World War II, and spent time in the US Army before founding Commodore International, which began life as a typewriter company.

The company gradually embraced changing technology by first producing pocket calculators and then relocating to Silicon Valley and entering the home computer market.

After reportedly turning down an offer from Steve Jobs to build the Apple II computer, the company produced the Commodore PET computer in 1977, followed by the VIC-20 in 1980 - which was advertised by William Shatner, making him the first celebrity to endorse a Silicon Valley product.

The subsequent Commodore C64 went on to become the most popular home computer of the mid-80s - although Mr Tramiel was forced out of the company in 1984 following a stockholder's dispute.

He went on to buy the computer division of gaming giants Atari, and produced a number of new machines including the Atari ST, as well as the Lynx and Jaguar consoles, before taking a back seat and letting his son Sam take over running the company.

However he returned briefly to take charge in 1995 after Sam suffered a heart attack.

Mr Tramiel had a reputation for being a fiercely competitive businessman, and for making Commodore one of the first computer companies to produce affordable products.

He famously said of the range, "We like to sell to the masses and not the classes."

Silicon Valley historian Michael S Malone told Sky News: "He really has provided a lesson to everybody of what a traditional entrepreneur was - independent, absolutely fearless."

Mr Tramiel was also a co-founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and gave talks about the Holocaust to schools and universities.

His son Leonard said: "It was very very important to him that people knew the story and that they would never forget."

As well as his three sons, he is also survived by his wife Helen.