(CNN) -- Hiroshi Yamauchi, who built Nintendo from a small playing-card company into a global video-gaming empire before buying the Seattle Mariners, died Thursday in Japan. He was 85.
Yamauchi took over the company from his ailing grandfather as a university student in 1949 and ran it until 2002 -- a remarkable span of 53 years.
He guided Nintendo from its pre-electronic days as a maker of children's games through its emergence as the creator of hugely popular video-gaming platforms such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Game Boy, hit games such as "Donkey Kong," and iconic characters such as Mario, the mustachioed Italian plumber.
Nintendo confirmed the news Thursday in an e-mailed statement to media outlets. The company said Yamauchi died of pneumonia at a hospital in central Japan.
"The entire Nintendo group will carry on the spirit of Mr. Yamauchi by honoring, in our approach to entertainment, the sense of value he has taught us -- that there is merit in doing what is different -- and at the same time, by changing Nintendo in accordance with changing times," said current Nintendo President Satoru Iwata in a statement sent to CNN.
Forbes in April estimated Yamauchi's net worth at $2.1 billion, placing him 831st on its list of the world's richest billionaires.
After Yamauchi stepped down Nintendo had another blockbuster hit with its Wii motion-control gaming system, although the company's recent product launches have not fared so well.
Although not a baseball fan, Yamauchi bought a majority stake in the Seattle Mariners in 1992 to help keep the team in the Pacific Northwest when it looked like it might be relocated to Florida. He famously never saw the Mariners play live.