By Edmund Klamann
TOKYO (Reuters) - Former Sony President and Chairman Norio Ohga, who gave up a career as an opera singer to join the fledgling consumer electronics maker in the 1950s and later led its expansion into movies and video games, died on Saturday, the company said. He was 81.
Ohga was Sony's president from 1982 to 1995, overseeing the $3.4 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures in 1989 at the height of Japan's economic bubble when many Japanese firms dominated their industries globally and were buying up iconic assets abroad.
Ohga remained a senior adviser to the company at the time of his death.
He was credited with spearheading Sony's development of the compact disc and its push into music, playing a central role in the acquisition of a major record label, CBS Records.
Ohga also presided over Sony's entry into the home video game business, which it came to dominate with the PlayStation.
The acquisition of the movie studio, now known as Sony Pictures, remained controversial and speculation periodically surfaced of a possible sell-off as analysts questioned whether Sony would ever achieve returns to justify the cost.
Ohga, a graduate of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and the Berlin University of the Arts, served as president of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a vice chairman of an influential business lobby, the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations.
Ohga stepped down as president in 1995, succeeded by Nobuyuki Idei, and continued to serve as chairman and representative director until 2000.
Sony's competitiveness has waned considerably in recent years. It lost the lead in video games to Nintendo and has been outmaneuvered by Apple in portable music and by South Korea's Samsung Electronics in flat-screen TVs.
"It is no exaggeration to attribute Sony's evolution beyond audio and video products into music, movies and games, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader to Ohga-san's foresight and vision," Howard Stinger, who took the helm at Sony in 2005, said in a statement.
The cause of Ohga's death was multiple organ failure, Sony said.
(Editing by Nathan Layne)