Apple Inc co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, counted among the greatest American CEOs of his generation, died on Wednesday at the age of 56, after a years-long and highly public battle with cancer and other health issues.Jobs's death was announced by Apple in a statement late on Wednesday. The Apple.com homepage featured a black-and-white picture of him with the words "Steve Jobs, 1955-2011."RELATED:Apple stumble seen as open door for rivalsThe Silicon Valley icon who gave the world the iPod and the iPhone had resigned as CEO of the world's largest technology corporation in August, handing the reins to current chief executive Tim Cook.A survivor of a rare form of pancreatic cancer, he was deemed the heart and soul of a company that rivals Exxon Mobil as the most valuable in America."Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve," Apple said in a statement announcing Jobs's passing. "His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts."Jobs's health had been a controversial topic for years. His battle with cancer had been a deep concern to Apple fans, investors and the company's board alike. In past years, even board members have confided to friends their concern that Jobs, in his quest for privacy, wasn't being forthcoming enough with directors about the true condition of his health.Now, despite investor confidence in Cook, who has stood in for his boss during three leaves of absence, there remain concerns about whether the company would stay a creative force to be reckoned with beyond the next year or so without its founder and visionary at the helm.The news triggered an immediate outpouring of sympathy. Among others, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he will miss Jobs "immensely".Jobs's climb to prominenceA college dropout, Buddhist and son of adoptive parents, Jobs started Apple Computer with friend Steve Wozniak in the late 1970s. The company soon introduced the Apple 1 computer.But it was the Apple II that became a huge success and gave Apple its position as a critical player in the then-nascent PC industry, culminating in a 1980 IPO that made Jobs a multimillionaire.Despite the subsequent success of the Mac, Jobs' relationship with top management and the board soured. The company removed most of his powers and then in 1985 he was fired. Apple's fortunes waned after that. However, its purchase of NeXT -- the computer company Jobs founded after leaving Apple -- in 1997 brought him back into the fold. Later that year, he became interim CEO and in 2000, the company dropped "interim" from his title.Along the way Jobs also had managed to revolutionize computer animation with his other company, Pixar, but it was the iPhone in 2007 that capped his legacy in the annals of modern technology history.Two years before the gadget that forever transformed the way people around the world access and use the Internet, Jobs talked about how a sense of his mortality was a major driver behind that vision."Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life," Jobs said during a Stanford commencement ceremony in 2005."Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.""Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."