Mario Segale, the Seattle real estate and construction business owner who inspired the name for Nintendo’s famous mascot, passed away on October 27 according to reports from The Seattle Times and The Auburn Reporter. He was 84 years old.
Segale owned the business park housing Nintendo’s American arcade operation in the early ’80s, when the company was busy converting thousands of disused Radarscope cabinets to play Donkey Kong. At the time, Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa and other executives were trying to come up with an Americanized name for the game’s player avatar, who was still referred to as “Jumpman” at that point (a name that appears on early Donkey Kong cabinet art).
As the story goes, when Segale came to Arakawa to demand payment for a late rent bill, inspiration struck.
While the broad strokes of Segale’s role in Mario’s naming remain consistent, the particulars can change with the retelling. David Sheff’s seminal Nintendo history Game Over suggests the executives exclaimed “Super Mario!” after Segale’s visit in 1981 (though the book misspells his name “Segali”). As Benj Edwards notes in an in-depth 2010 exploration of the tale, though, the “Super” descriptor for the character wouldn’t become common until the release of Super Mario Bros. in 1985. Other retellings over the years go so far as to suggest that the “Super” came from Segale’s role as “superintendent” of the building, but these stories offer little in the way of direct evidence.
In a 2005 MTV interview, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto misremembered the American warehouse being in New York. Miyamoto also mistakenly suggested Segale “had a striking resemblance to the character that we had designed in Japan for the game,” showing how much the story can become mangled with the passage of time even among some of the game’s principal players.
In any case, as The Seattle Times obituary notes, Segale “always ducked the notoriety [for being Mario’s namesake] and wanted to be known instead for what he accomplished in his life,” such as building a successful construction business from a single dump truck bought after high school in 1952. A 1993 Seattle Times article quotes him as joking, “You might say I’m still waiting for my royalty checks,” seemingly the only on-the-record comment on his ancillary role in Nintendo’s history.
Segale is survived by his wife Donna, four children, and nine grandchildren.