Larry Brilliant recalls the personal side of Steve Jobs


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Over the course of 35 years of friendship, Larry Brilliant never gave an interview about Steve Jobs.

Jobs shielded himself and his family from the media, and his friends respected his privacy. But over the summer, Jobs told Brilliant that he would be ‘happy to have people talk about him,’ Brilliant recalled Thursday.


So Brilliant, an epidemiologist who was the director of Google’s philanthropic arm, broke his silence Thursday. He recalled first meeting Jobs when Jobs was 19. Brilliant was in India working to eradicate smallpox.

Jobs had dropped out of college and traveled to India to meet Brilliant’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Baba died before Jobs reached the Kainchi Ashram with a Reed College friend –- and later, Apple’s first employee -- Daniel Kottke.

‘We met when he, like all of us, were spiritual seekers in India. It was that quality in him that people feel even though these are physical instruments, iPhones, iPods, iPads. People can feel that he was continuing that quest,’ Brilliant said. ‘He had this idea back in the 1970s, that cliche of giving power to the people. He really believed it. When he made the first Apple II, he thought he was giving power to the people by putting a computer on everyone’s desk so they would not have to be dependent on the priesthood with mainframes. This was giving power to the people in a very real way, not a theoretical way. What he has done is democratize access to information and access to beauty.’

Because his private life was so little known, few outside of Jobs’ inner circle experienced the caring side of Jobs, Brilliant said.

In 2006 when Brilliant joined Google, both his wife and son were diagnosed with cancer. He was distraught. He says Jobs supported him by creating spreadsheets that ranked cancer surgeons based on a number of criteria including post-surgery infection rate, follow-up care and approval ratings.

‘That’s the part that people couldn’t possibly know -- the love and the care that he put into everything he did. He just loved his family, Laurene (Powell) and the kids. He loved them more than anyone could articulate. And he loved Apple,’ Brilliant said.


‘The defining character of Steve Jobs isn’t his genius, it isn’t his talent, it isn’t his success. It’s his love. That’s why crowds came to see him. You could feel that. It sounds ridiculous to talk about love when you are making a gadget. But Steve loved his work, he loved the products he produced, and it was palpable. He communicated that love through bits of steel and plastic.’


Steve Jobs’ virtual DNA to be fostered in Apple University

The truth about Steve Jobs and Xerox PARC

Steve Jobs biography: Release date moves up, skyrockets to No. 1

-- Jessica Guynn