Steve Wilhite, the computer scientist who created the popular GIF file format in 1987, died in intensive care last Monday from complications of COVID-19, a report said.
He was 74.
Wilhite contracted the virus just two weeks before his death and was hospitalized near their home in Milford, Ohio, his wife Kathaleen Wilhite told NPR.
“It came on suddenly. He woke up one morning and he said, ‘Honey, I don’t feel good. I don’t feel good at all,’” Kathaleen recalled.
“And he was running a fever, throwing up so badly. And then the next day he started coughing badly,” she told the publication.
Kathaleen said she was at home when she got a call from the hospital last Monday telling her she needed to get there. Shortly after she arrived, her husband died.
“It’s just so bad. It’s just so tragic,” she told NPR.
Wilhite invented the Graphics Interchange Format while working at CompuServe in the late 80s.
The format, which enabled simple animation and utilized fast download speeds, became widely used in the internet’s infancy because it was supported by many applications and operating systems.
At the turn of the century GIFs were omnipresent on MySpace, before becoming widely used to create viral memes at the start of the 2010s.
In recent years GIFs enjoyed a renaissance as they were adopted by modern social media and texting platforms.
Despite their wide usage, most people mispronounce the format.
In 2013 Wilhite clarified that there was no hard “G” sound in the word, and said it should be pronounced “jif,” like the peanut butter brand, in an interview with The New York Times.
His expertise was denounced by then-President Barack Obama, who said he would pronounce it like “gift” without the last letter.
“That is my official position. I’ve pondered it a long time,” Obama tweeted.
Wilhite was once America Online’s chief architect and received the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award, his obit said.