Mario Segale, who inspired the plucky plumber Mario — one of the most recognizable characters in the world, let alone in video games — has died at age 84. Segale was Nintendo’s landlord outside Seattle when the company created Donkey Kong, the classic game that launched the overalls-wearing Mario.
Segale never sought to play up the connection, instead focusing on his family’s lucrative businesses in heavy construction and real estate development in the bustling Seattle region. Because of his desire for privacy, few pictures of him exist online.
“While he was the inspiration for the name of Nintendo’s ‘Super Mario’ from when they were tenants in his business park in the 1970s, he always ducked the notoriety and wanted to be known instead for what he accomplished in his life,” Segale’s obituary reads.
As for how his name and Italian heritage helped give life to Mario, Segale was said to have made an impression on his tenants when he allegedly stormed into Nintendo’s offices in Tukwila, Wash., demanding they catch up on late rent. As gaming historian Benj Edwards noted in 2010, a close associate of Segale’s confirmed that he wasn’t very tall, and wore suspenders rather than overalls.
Another friend of Segale’s commented on that story: “My direct understanding and perception is that Mario Segale doesn’t mind at all the fact that his name inspired such an iconic character, and that he shows humble pride in that fact in front of his grandchildren and close-knit adult circles.”