Nintendo Lawyer and Donkey Kong Savior John Kirby Dies at Age 79

John Kirby, the lawyer responsible for defending Nintendo's usage of Donkey Kong in 1984, has died at age 79. Nintendo named the character Kirby after him.

October 4, 2019

Did you know that Universal sued Nintendo in 1982 over trademark infringement? It was thought that Donkey Kong was too similar to King Kong. The court thankfully ruled in favor of Nintendo, allowing Donkey Kong to survive and thrive. The character undoubtedly remains influential to this day. The lawyer responsible for that decision is Kirby’s namesake, John Kirby. He died this week at the age of 79.

John Kirby died on Oct. 2 from a blood cancer called Myelodysplastic syndrome. He had an admirable career that ranged from defending one of the most influential video game companies in the world to escorting Black children into segregated schools during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement.


According to his obituary in the New York Times, it was this latter work that he was most proud of. He began this work as a summer intern for the Department of Justice, eventually working his way up to special assistant for the head of the Civil Rights Division. He collected voting records in the South that provided evidence for wide-spread discrimination against Black citizens. His discovery of literacy tests designed to ostracize Black voters helped form the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

He was appointed Deputy Director to the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest after. This organization was founded after four students at Kent State University were killed.

The obituary invites contributions to be made 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.


Got a tip?

Let us know