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Kirby Namesake And Donkey Kong Savior John Kirby Dies At 79

John Kirby, the man after whom Nintendo named their iconic pink puff ball, passed away earlier this week at the age of 79.

Kirby forever earned Nintendo's gratitude after representing the company in a 1984 case to determine whether Donkey Kong violated the copyright for King Kong held by Universal Studios. Kirby countered Universal's argument, pointing out the company had asserted that King Kong's plot was in the public domain in a previous suit. The attorney won the case, keeping the name and story of the beloved franchise in tact. Nintendo gifted Kirby with a sailboat named "Donkey Kong" in appreciation and later named an entire franchise after him.


Beyond his long history with Nintendo, Kirby spent much of his career championing civil rights as a special assistant to the head of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. According to his New York Times obituary, he got his start in civil rights law via an internship at the Department of Justice where 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."


Kirby's work clearly touched the lives of thousands of people, both directly and indirectly. Though he lost his own life to blood cancer on October 2, his legacy will live on in the hearts and homes of those he helped and inspired during a legal career that spanned four decades. His family has invited those who wish to honor that legacy to make contributions 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.