We may not always like him, but we've always been fascinated by him

By Allison Linn
Senior writer

June 24, MSNBC

You may love or you may hate him, but you’d have to be living under a rock — without an Internet connection — not to know who Bill Gates is.

Gates was for years the world’s richest man, even if it wasn’t a mantle he wore gladly. He earned his billions by co-founding Microsoft Corp., a company whose technology — again — may be loved or may be hated but almost can’t be avoided in modern society.

Now he’s poised to leave his full-time work at Microsoft to spend most of his energy on another endeavor that fuels the public’s fascination with him: the world's biggest philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, funded largely by his own fortune.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Chances are, his new job won’t do much to diminish the world’s obsession with him. For many, the mystique starts with one simple fact: all that money.

“If he was the third-richest man in the world, I don’t think there would be anything near the mystique around Bill Gates that there is,” said Gary Rivlin, a journalist and author of “The Plot to Get Bill Gates.”

In fact, Gates did fall to the No. 3 spot this year, according to Forbes magazine. Still, Forbes estimated that his fortune stands at about $58 billion, and his name is forever associated with the many years he ranked as the world’s richest person.

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photo: A photographic look back at Bill Gates’ illustrious career at Microsoft, from his arrest photo in 1977 to his last CES keynote with guitarist Slash (MSNBC)