David Olive, who died in Barton, Cambridgeshire, on 7 November 2012, aged 75, was a theoretical physicist who made seminal contributions to the development of string theory and to our understanding of the structure of quantum field theory. In early work on S-matrix theory, he helped to provide the conceptual framework within which string theory was initially formulated. His work, with Gliozzi and Scherk, on supersymmetry in string theory made possible the whole idea of superstrings, now understood as the natural framework for string theory. Olive’s pioneering insights about the duality between electric and magnetic objects in gauge theories were way ahead of their time; it took two decades before his bold and courageous duality conjectures began to be understood. Although somewhat quiet and reserved, he took delight in the company of others, generously sharing his emerging understanding of new ideas with students and colleagues. He was widely influential, not only through the depth and vision of his original work, but also because the clarity, simplicity and elegance of his expositions of new and difficult ideas and theories provided routes into emerging areas of research, both for students and for the theoretical physics community more generally.