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By Richie Duchon

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has died at age 55 because of a bile duct growth, the company said Sunday.

The gaming company said in a brief statement (PDF) that it "deeply regrets" having to announce Iwata's passing Saturday.

Iwata had undergone surgery in June 2014 to remove a growth on his bile duct, causing him to miss the company's annual shareholders meeting. In a statement to shareholders at the time, Iwata said his doctors were confident that they had detected the growth early and that he had no symptoms from the growth.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata at the opening day of the E3 Expo in Los Angeles in June 2009.David McNew / Getty Images

Iwata was named director of the company in 2000 and chief executive of Nintendo of America in 2013. He led the company to major growth in the last 15 years, notably on the backs of the hugely successful Wii and DS consoles. As recently as May, Iwata presided over a news conference to announce Nintendo's full-year financial results, announcing that it had returned to profitability for the first time since 2011.

He was a prominent face for the company for many years, frequently interacting with gaming communities and hosting a regular column called Iwata Asks on Nintendo's site, where he interviewed game developers about their latest products. His most recent post about the latest game in the Fire Emblem series was posted just a few weeks ago.

News of Iwata's death sent shock waves through the technology and game communities:

"Satoru Iwata was an icon in the gaming world," Paul Morris, a prominent video game industry writer, told CNBC. "He was a kind, generous and completely charming person who left this planet much too early. The industry will forever be in his debt."

Alex Johnson contributed.