Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Farewell to Mike Homer

We all liked Mike. In fact, we all loved the pugnacious, energetic and restlessly entrepreneurial Silicon Valley exec.

Sadly for those who knew him, Mike Homer died today at his home surrounded by family and friends, after a long battle with a severe illness. He was 50.

Homer is survived by his wife, Kristina, and three young children: James, Jack and Lucy.

His funeral is at Saint Raymond’s Catholic Church in Menlo Park on Thursday.

In 2007, Homer was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

A rare, neurodegenerative “prion” disease, which in Homer’s case has occurred sporadically rather than via infection (the well-known variant that occurs in animals is called mad cow disease), CJD’s incidence is one case in a million annually, and few survive beyond a year after exhibiting symptoms.

His illness inspired his family and many friends to find treatments and a cure for the cruel disease, and include the man–Dr. Stanley Prusiner–who won the Nobel Prize in 1997 for discovering prions, infectious agents that are at the heart of CJD.

In late 2006, Homer began suffering from memory problems. Another close friend, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, aided Homer in getting to the right doctors at Stanford University Hospital, where he was diagnosed.

Quickly, via angel investor and close Homer friend Ron Conway, who serves on the board of the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Foundation, Homer’s case was moved to UCSF. The hospital there is the only place in this country that has a major laboratory doing both research and clinical trials on CJD.

Still, there is no known cure for CJD, and treatments have been few. That might change, given the push that Homer, his family and friends had been making to accelerate the pace of discovery for treatments and a cure by raising many millions of dollars for the cause and pushing for even more aggressive development.

At an event in Palo Alto in 2007 for those interested in helping beat CJD–organized by Conway and well-known Silicon Valley exec and Homer mentor Bill Campbell, with Homer in attendance–he was in fine form, greeting well-wishers with a laugh and sassy attitude, especially given the dire situation and obvious difficulties with speech and movement.

As I wrote then:

Such fighting spirit was typical of Homer, whom I met when I was doing my first book on the rise of America Online more than a decade ago, when he was an executive at the then-high-flying Netscape.

He had also, like many, put in time at Apple and was known throughout the industry for his hard-charging and straightforward style. He needed it in the later days of Netscape, when he arduously tried to shift the company’s focus from a browser-software business besieged by Microsoft to a portal business.

Despite his sometimes tough demeanor, Homer was always willing–unlike so many others–to debate his business in an all-out-on-the-table manner I found refreshing compared to the sometimes earnest and smooth spin of most dot-com entrepreneurs.

Most of all, even when you disagreed over an issue, he always left such arguments at work and was ready with his quick laugh or a razor-sharp quip no matter what.

Recently, before his illness, Homer had been investing in and mentoring a series of start-ups. But he had also been focusing a lot on philanthropy and, most of all, his family and, especially, his three small children.”

My deep condolences go out to them and, really, everyone who had the privilege of knowing Mike.

More about his career and memories of Mike to come. But until then, here’s the video that was shot at the 2007 Palo Alto event called “The Fight for Mike,” which is introduced by Campbell: