Beloved AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey dead at 76
James Kimsey, the cofounder of AOL who helped run the iconic Internet company in its early days before moving on to become an influential humanitarian, budding socialite and, briefly, country musician, died this week. He was 76.
His death was confirmed on Facebook by Steve Case, AOL's other founder, who described his friend's "pivotal" role in creating a business that was synonymous with the Internet throughout the 1990s.
"I will forever be grateful to Jim for his leadership, his belief in me, and for his many valuable contributions to his community and his country," Case wrote. "He was a great man, and a great American, and he will be missed."
For all the influence that Kimsey and AOL had on Silicon Valley in later years, he came of age in Washington D.C. and remained loyal to the city throughout his life, as a philanthropist and highly sought-after man-about-town.
He attended the prestigious military academy at West Point and served as an airborne ranger in Vietnam before returning home and pursuing his next act in businessman opening bars and restaurant establishments.
He was also active in international affairs as chairman of Refugees International, a nonprofit, as well as chair of his own Kimsey Foundation to help at-risk kids.
In 1983, Kimsey was asked by another West Point graduate to help consult for a stumbling business he'd invested in called Control Video, the precursor to AOL, which focused on the nascent online sector as it related to Atari video game rentals.
The classmate was Steve Case, nearly two decades Kimsey's junior, and he was the brains who helped iterate the company into a formidable dial-up Internet service that briefly had a market value of $222 billion.
Kimsey was the money man and business-friendly leader who served as AOL's first CEO until 1997, just a few years before the company's blockbuster merger with Time Warner that more or less represented its peak.
In the years that followed, Kimsey drew on his military experience and travelled to Bosnia and Iraq to tackle humanitarian issues.
He established the Kimsey Foundation and pursued philanthropic efforts in education and the art world, serving in executive roles at the Washington Opera and National Symphony Orchestra.
Kimsey also proved himself to be a renaissance man with the release of a country music record.
"I know it may sound wrong," he sings in one song, dedicated to his assistant Nancy, who did everything from arranging his business affairs to keeping order over his active romantic life. "You're half my pimp and half my mom. Without you I'd be gone."
A millionaire many times over thanks to the success of AOL, Kimsey lived the good life and spoke candidly about his wealth and privilege.
"I have four people (in the office) and five people at the house and I don't even have a job," Kimsey said in one interview. "Why it takes that many people to sustain me is hard to explain."
He also took a Frank Lloyd Wright house that was falling apart and restored it so well that he quipped that it was his favorite house to use to impress dates — and that one of his grandchildren was likely conceived there.
Even as he approached his 70s, Kimsey continued to be a fixture of the Washington D.C. social scene, living the high life far from the tech bubble in Silicon Valley he and AOL helped create.