GIF creator Stephen Wilhite dies at 74

BY: Addy Bink, Nexstar Media Wire

(NEXSTAR) – Stephen Wilhite, the man behind looping animated images known as GIFs, has passed away. He was 74.

Wilhite died last week, according to an obituary from an Ohio funeral home. His wife, Kathaleen, told The Verge he died from COVID and was surrounded by family when he passed.

Wilhite is credited for creating the GIF, or “Graphics Interchange Format,” in the late 1980s while working for CompuServe, a commercial online service provider. The World Wide Web didn’t yet exist, but Wilhite was able to create a way for those using email or transferring files to share a color image file without it taking up too much space, the Smithsonian Magazine explains.

This was the start of the GIF, which has since become a popular way for social media users to express emotions or share short bits of video. GIF was even declared the word of the year in 2012 by the Oxford American Dictionary.

In 2013, Wilhite was awarded the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for creating the GIF. Rather than giving an acceptance speech, a GIF was played for the audience that read: “It’s pronounced ‘JIF’ not ‘GIF,’” to settle a long-standing debate on the acronym’s pronunciation.

In an interview with the New York Times, Wilhite not only reiterated his irritation with the commonly used, yet incorrect, pronunciation of GIF, but he also identified the GIF of a dancing baby as his favorite.

GIFs are still well-used today, 35 years after their creation. GIPHY – a search engine for GIFs – recently released its list of top GIFs for 2021, which included “Bored Stanley” from “The Office,” “Oh No” by “The Great British Bake Off,” and “Kathryn Hahn Winking” by Disney+.

“Even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man,” Wilhite’s obituary reads. He is survived by four stepchildren, a son, 11 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. A funeral service was held on Tuesday.

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