Sir Clive Sinclair, the British inventor who pioneered the pocket calculator and affordable home computers, died Thursday at age 81.
He died at his home in London a decade after being diagnosed with cancer, U.K. media said, prompting tributes from many who fondly recalled their first experience of computing in the early 1980s.
He was still working on inventions last week “because that was what he loved doing,” his daughter Belinda Sinclair told the BBC. “He was inventive and imaginative, and for him, it was exciting and an adventure. It was his passion.”
Sinclair’s groundbreaking products included the first portable electronic calculator in 1972.
The Sinclair ZX80, which was launched in 1980 and sold for less than £100 at the time, brought home computing to the masses in Britain and beyond.
Other early home computers such as the Apple II cost far more, and Sinclair’s company was the first in the world to sell more than a million machines.
Follow-up models included the ZX Spectrum in 1982, which boasted superior power and a more user-friendly interface, turbocharging the revolution in gaming and programming at home.
British movie director Edgar Wright, whose latest film, Last Night in Soho, premiered in Venice this month, paid tribute to Sinclair on Twitter.
“For someone whose first glimpses of a brave new world were the terrifying graphics of 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81, I’d like to salute tech pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair,” he said. “He made 21st century dreams feel possible. Will bash away on the rubber keys of a Spectrum in your honour. RIP.”
Tom Watson, former deputy leader of Britain’s opposition Labor Party, tweeted: “This man changed the course of my life.
“And arguably, the digital age for us in the UK started with the Sinclair ZX80, when thousands of kids learnt to code using 1k of RAM. For us, the Spectrum was like a Rolls-Royce with 48k.”
However, not all of Sinclair’s inventions were a runaway success.
The Sinclair C5, a battery-powered tricycle touted as the future of eco-friendly transport, became an expensive flop after it was launched in 1985.
But in retrospect, it was ahead of its time, given today’s attention on climate change and the vogue for electric vehicles.
“You cannot exaggerate Sir Clive Sinclair’s influence on the world,” gaming journalist and presenter Dominik Diamond tweeted. “And if we’d all stopped laughing long enough to buy a C5, he’d probably have saved the environment.”
Born in 1940, Sinclair left school at 17, becoming a technical writer creating specialist manuals.
At 22, he formed his first company, making mail-order radio kits, including what was then the world’s smallest transistor radio.
Other ventures included digital watches and an early version of a flat-screen television.
He was knighted in 1983.
Ironically, in a 2013 interview with the BBC, Sinclair revealed that he did not use computers.
“I don’t like distraction,” he explained. “If I had a computer, I’d start thinking I could change this, I could change that, and I don’t want to. My wife very kindly looks after that for me.”