- Associated Press - Thursday, October 6, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Of all the tributes that poured in after Steve Jobs‘ death, clogging up Twitter and dominating the airwaves, he might have most appreciated one small gesture from an anonymous fan: A juicy red apple, partially eaten to mimic the Apple logo, placed against the door of an Apple store in Manhattan.

The gesture was simple and elegant, but also a sign of a rare connection between the public and a visionary entrepreneur _ one who transcended the business world to become a veritable pop culture icon.

By the time he died on Wednesday, after years of medical problems, Jobs had appeared on some 100 magazine covers and had numerous books written about him, not to mention an off-Broadway play, an HBO movie, even a “South Park” episode. He wasn’t the first celebrity CEO, and he won’t be the last. But he may have been the first in modern times to achieve such a lofty place in the public consciousness.

Jobs, who seemingly enjoyed the access his celebrity brought, also appeared deeply conflicted about his fame, zealously guarding the smallest details of his private life. And though he appeared smiling on countless magazine covers, he had a prickly relationship with the media and those who sought to write about him.

Steve had a love-hate relationship with his own fame,” says Alan Deutschman, author of “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs,” an unauthorized biography. “He clearly enjoyed the celebrity and the access it gave him, but he wanted total control over his image.”

And he largely got it. “Steve was masterful,” Deutschman says. “No one has come close to Steve in his ability to control and manipulate the media and get what he wants.”

Any doubts as to the scope of Jobs‘ remarkable fame would have been quickly erased by the avalanche of tributes that poured in after his death, from business leaders to entertainment figures to President Barack Obama. The Twitter-verse quickly became clogged with 140-character-or-less accolades, many punctuated with a bittersweet: “Sent from my iPhone.” A top-trending tweet was “iSad.”

On morning television Thursday, it seemed as if no less than a head of state had died. In a special edition of “Today,” anchor Matt Lauer asked fans in the plaza outside NBC to hold up their Apple devices. Time magazine said it had stopped the presses _ literally _ for the first time in two decades, to redo its upcoming issue and put Jobs on the cover for the eighth time.

In the long run, where does Jobs fit in the pantheon of celebrity CEOs? Analysts struggle to find apt comparisons in the business world.

“He’s on another plane,” says Robert Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford University. “He reached a level in the public consciousness that’s beyond that of anyone in modern times. I mean, my mother doesn’t know the name of (former General Electric CEO) Jack Welch.”

Sutton and others find that they have to reach back into history for comparisons: to Henry Ford, for example, who revolutionized transportation with the Model T automobile, or to Thomas Edison, the master inventor who similarly transformed the way we live. Or to Walt Disney, with his vast influence in entertainment.

It’s Edison’s name that pops up the most often, partly because he wasn’t only a visionary but, as Sutton says, “He could really sell. He was very good at his external image.”

Like Jobs, whose name is well known to children as young as 6 or 7 (even if they’re too young to read business magazines or, let’s hope, to see that edgy “South Park” episode), Edison was emulated by young children of his time, says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management.

Sonnenfeld, who studies business leaders, compares Jobs _ and his fame _ to other “folk heroes” who’ve emerged in various fields at times of great change in our history, be it politics, culture, or, in this case, technology.

“What heroes do is personify complex change,” Sonnenfeld says. “It’s a shorthand that we use. It reduces things to the level of an individual.” Jobs‘ ability to channel technology into products people didn’t even know they wanted _ but then had to have _ is “almost unfathomable,” he says.

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