Jacob Thompson, the Saco boy whose battle with cancer inspired tens of thousands of people from across the world to send him Christmas cards, died Sunday.

Jacob’s death came a week after an early Christmas celebration with his family at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he was treated during his four-year battle with neuroblastoma. He was 9.

Jacob’s positive spirit and his love of Christmas made headlines across the country this month after his family asked people to send the boy handmade cards to help brighten his final days. He also loved penguins and his motto was “live life like a penguin,” which to Jacob meant “be friendly, stand by each other, go the extra mile, jump into life and be cool,” said his mother, Michelle Thompson Simard.

Jacob Thompson of Saco, who scrunched up his nose when he was happy, received international attention after his family asked people to send him Christmas cards to help brighten his final days of life. The 9-year-old celebrated the holiday early with his family before dying Sunday of cancer. Photo courtesy amazingdjmusic.com

Jacob’s story was told by The Washington Post, ABC News and other national media outlets. His death made national news again Monday as admirers posted notes of sympathy to the family in multiple languages on Facebook.

Jacob was diagnosed four years ago with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancerous tumor that had spread to his head, including on the membrane between his skull and his brain, his family said. Jacob was admitted to the hospital for the last time Oct. 11.

When it became clear that Jacob would not live until Christmas, his family decided to celebrate early and invited people through social media to send holiday cards to Jacob.

Friends and strangers from Maine and around the globe responded with more than 66,000 cards, along with gifts and video messages, wishing Jacob well.

Jacob’s request for Christmas cards drew responses from a number of politicians and celebrities, including former first lady Barbara Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maine native Anna Kendrick. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sent Jacob a personal letter along with the autographs of players.

After his Christmas celebration last week, the family still had 21 pallets of boxes containing Christmas cards to open. Many of the cards, gifts and handmade drawings sent to Jacob featured penguins.

Jacob Thompson loved penguins and his motto was “live life like a penguin,” which meant “be friendly, stand by each other, go the extra mile, jump into life and be cool,” his mother said. Photo courtesy amazingdjmusic.com

The Mystic Aquarium brought live penguins to the hospital to visit, a local magician performed a show just for Jacob and his family, and police officers from across New England drove to Portland to deliver cards and formed a motorcade that drove past the hospital so Jacob could see it from a window.

Radio station 94.9 WHOM kicked off its season of holiday music early to coincide with Jacob’s Christmas celebration and allowed him to choose the first song played. Jacob chose Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo.”

Jacob’s family announced his death on the Facebook page where they documented his battle with cancer, and responded to the overwhelming media attention.

“Each and every person who sent Jacob a Christmas card, a gift, a Facebook message or video, or a prayer made a difference in the final days of his life. You brought Jacob joy, and you brought us all optimism for the future,” the family wrote. “Thank you for taking the time, and taking an interest in our sweet boy’s journey. Sadly, there are many others like him that we hope you will continue to help.”

Two African penguins from Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut were among the visitors Jacob received in recent weeks. Jacob had seen penguins at an aquarium before, but the surprise visit outside Maine Med was the first time Jacob had an up-close encounter. As he was brought to the viewing area, two aquarium staff members stepped aside to reveal the penguins inside a special clear viewing cart.

“We were told Jacob would scrunch his nose up when he was happy. That was the first thing he did when he saw the penguins,” said Josh Davis, the aquarium’s penguin trainer.

Davis said Jacob spent at least half an hour visiting with a penguin named Green/Blue, petting her both with and without his mittens on.

“He immediately said, ‘Oh my gosh, it feels like a puppy.’ It opened our eyes to how young and innocent he was,” Davis said. “It was a really special day to make a little boy’s Christmas wish come true. It was one of the most emotional interactions I’ve ever done with a penguin.”

The Stoughton, Massachusetts, Police Department helped organize a convoy to Maine that involved more than 100 police cruisers and motorcycles from agencies across New England. Officers presented Jacob with an oversized stuffed penguin and said the boy inspired them with his unmatched strength.

On Monday, Stoughton police posted a Facebook message about Jacob’s death, along with a photo of the boy watching the procession of police vehicles from his hospital window.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that Jacob Thompson, a young boy who captured the hearts of people around the world, including those of us at the Stoughton Police Department, has died. Childhood cancer is more cruel and unusual than anything we could imagine and he fought it with everything he had,” the department wrote. “Right up until his final days he had a smile across his face and showed us all that no matter what life deals you, you can always find a smile.”

Within hours of the Facebook post announcing Jacob’s death, more than 3,000 people had left comments expressing their condolences and support for the family. Many of the comments, from people around the world, included photos of penguins and the tag #LiveLikeAPenguin in honor of Jacob’s love for the flightless birds.

“Jacob was an inspiration and many of us have been touched by his amazing strength and love of life. I will do my best to #LiveLikeAPenguin,” wrote one.

Jacob is survived by his mother, Michelle Thompson Simard, his father, Roger Guay, his dog Piper and his extended family. The hospital, which had been handling media requests to speak with the family, did not comment Monday. A media relations agency that is helping Jacob’s family did not immediately respond to a request for an interview or more information about memorial plans.

In the Facebook post about Jacob’s death, his family asks people who would like to make a donation in his honor to do so to Operation Gratitude, a penguin rescue group, or to pay it forward in the community.

“We hope that Jacob’s story and the enormous outpouring of support from around the world will have a lasting impact on raising awareness for this disease. We hope that donations will be made, and a cure will be discovered as a result,” his family said. “And most importantly, always remember to #LiveLikeAPenguin for Jacob.”