Dennis Ritchie, Computer Pioneer Who Developed Unix, Dies at 70

Computer trailblazer created tools that “run pretty much everything today,” colleague says

The world has lost another computer pioneer.

Dennis Ritchie, the computer scientist who invented the C programming language and co-developped the Unix operating system, has died at the age of 70.

The New York Times reports that Ritchie's body was found in his New Jersey home.
While working at Bell Labs in the 1960s and early '70s, Ritchie served as the principal designer of C and was the co-developer of the Unix operating system. C, renowned for its clear, simple language, would become a vital tool in website development, while Unix is the foundation for computer operating systems such as Apples iOS.

"The tools that Dennis built — and their direct descendants — run pretty much everything today," Brian Kerhighan, Ritchie's colleague at Bell Labs, told the Times.

According to reports, Ritchie had been treated for prostate cancer and heart disease.

News of Ritchie's death comes just days after the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and, while their respective contributions to computer science might invite comparisons to the two, Ritchie and Jobs led very different lives, according to computer-history expert Paul Ceruzzi.

“It’s sort of ‘apples’ and oranges,” Ceruzzi told the Washington Post. “Ritchie was under the radar. His name was not a household name at all, but . . . if you had a microscope and could look in a computer, you’d see his work everywhere inside.”

Born in Bronxville, NY, Ritchie began working at Bell Labs — where his father was a scientist — in 1967, earning his Ph.D from Harvard the following year. He retired from Bell in 2007.

In 1983, Ritchie and his Bell Labs collaborator Ken Thompson received the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. In 1998, In 1998, then-Pres. Bill Clinton bestowed Ritchie and Thompson with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for their invention of C and Unix.