Randy Pausch Passes Away (1960 – 2008)

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Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist whose “last lecture” about facing terminal cancer became an Internet sensation and a best-selling book, died Friday. He was 47.

Randy Pausch taught Building Virtual Worlds, a class that started sometime in my sophmore or junior year, at Carnegie Mellon University and was a force on campus even before his famous Last Lecture. I always wanted to take Building Virtual Worlds but demand for the class was tremendous those first few years. I wasn’t going to get in the first few years it was offered but I’m upset I didn’t try harder. The class was well known around campus and it’s not surprising he was able to turn that into the ETC.

In listening to his Last Lecture, I understood where all his passion and his energy came from. He was following every dream he had and is an inspiration. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching it, you’ll be inspired.

Here’s his Last Lecture:

The following email was sent to CMU Alumni from President Jared Cohen:

Dear Alumni:
It is with great sadness that I inform you that our dear friend and colleague Randy Pausch passed away today, July 25, after a brave struggle against pancreatic cancer.

Randy captured the minds and hearts of millions worldwide with his Carnegie Mellon lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” and his book, “The Last Lecture.”

Randy, who earned his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon in 1988, returned to the university in 1997 as an associate professor of human-computer interaction and computer science. Along with Carnegie Mellon Professor Don Marinelli, Randy was the co-founder of the Entertainment Technology Center, a leading interactive multimedia education and entertainment center.

At Carnegie Mellon, Randy was also the director of the Alice software project, a revolutionary way to teach computer programming. The interactive Alice program teaches computer programming by having kids make animated movies and games. A fitting legacy to Randy’s life and work, Alice may in the future help to reverse the dramatic drop in the number of students majoring in computer science at colleges and universities. Randy was also known as a pioneer in the development of virtual reality, and he created the popular Building Virtual Worlds class.

An award-winning teacher and researcher, Randy was also a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. He used sabbatical leaves to work at Walt Disney Imagineering and Electronic Arts (EA), and he consulted with Google Inc. on user interface design. He is the author or co-author of five books and more than 70 articles.

Perhaps the greatest lesson, however, Randy taught us all was how to live, even in the face of great challenges, and how to follow our passion. While Randy’s greatest passion was clearly his family, he did not shy from sharing his passion for his work as a professor, for his students, and for Carnegie Mellon. We will miss Randy, but we will carry the memory of him and all that he did to make Carnegie Mellon a better university and each of us who knew him a better person.

A memorial service for Randy will be scheduled at a later date. For more information, visit

Jared L. Cohon
President, Carnegie Mellon University


(Photo: nimboo)

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “Randy Pausch Passes Away (1960 – 2008)”

  1. ReddH says:

    Thanks for giving him the nod here. I highly encourage people to watch his lecture, it’s well worth the time. I have so much respect for that man.

  2. Walt says:

    You might want to be a bit more descriptive in your headlines…I saw this in my feed reader this morning, but skipped right over it. Then I saw on Digg that he died, and I was like “wait, just this morning I saw somebody offering tickets to see him speak!” Yeah, that’s right…I thought you had passes (i.e. tickets) to another lecture he was doing. Oops…

  3. saladdin says:

    The true sad part is 6 months from now most will not remember his message and we will be back to tracking our 401k’s worried if we will have enough money for our retirement in 25 years.


  4. jim says:

    Walt: Good idea, I updated the title.

    Saladdin: Yep, but pursuing your dreams isn’t mutually exclusive with saving for retirement.

  5. Patrick says:

    This is extremely sad news. It’s always hard to see a fellow computer scientist pass away. From the video, he was a great speaker and it must have been a pleasure to take a class with him.

    I agree with Jim, you can still pursue everything you want in life and still save money. I have just as much fun as all my friends do, but don’t waste money the same way they do.

  6. saladdin says:

    Jim and Patrick,

    I was speaking more philosophically then anything. In the way that we say “Live life to the fullest” but still lay around on the couch on Saturday or “Live like today was the last day of our life” but we focus on YTD 401k returns.

    No way can we or do we pursue everything we want in life. That’s silly. Just like saying “I have no regrets.” We all do. My list is long and varied. Anyone without regrets is the one that has a wasted life and was scared of taking risks.

    When I hear stories like Pausch’s I atleast try to remedy some of my failings.


  7. jim says:

    We can pursue everything in life, we may not achieve it. The pursuit of happiness is what the American experience is all about. You may not be able to actually pursue everything you want, but you pursue what you can and the rest will work itself out. I knew what you meant, I was just messing with you. 🙂

  8. Andy says:

    Very sad. I was truly touched by his last lecture.

  9. adam carolla fan says:

    my post here is over 3 years late…but i’m still compelled to post (even though no one will probably read it).

    i watched “the last lecture” a couple years ago after a colleague recommended it, and found randy pausch and his view on how to live your life pretty remarkable.

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