Stephen Hawking, the legendary theoretical physicist and author of “A Brief History of Time,” has died. He was 76.
A family spokesman confirmed the news to the BBC.
Hawking was one of the most notable and well-known scientists of the past century, responsible for numerous advances in the fields of cosmology and physics.
Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement to the Guardian in the early hours of Wednesday morning: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”
The 2014 Oscar-nominated film “The Theory of Everything,” starring Eddie Redmayne as Hawking, was based on the early years of Hawking’s life. Redmayne won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal. In a statement issued to the media, Redmayne said: “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist, and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet. My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.”
“I was so sad to hear that Stephen has died,” said Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrayed the physicist in the BBC TV film “Hawking.” “I send my heartfelt love and condolences to all his family and colleagues. I feel so lucky to have known such a truly great man whose profundity was found both in his work and the communication of that work. Both in person and in books. He virtually created the publishing genre of popular science. A heroic feat to bring the wondrous complexities of the universe to all outside of specialists in this field. But truly courageous when considering it was achieved by a man who lived a life trapped in his body from the age of 21 when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. His support of the sciences, art, education, and the NHS and charities such as the MND foundation will also live on, as will his wickedly funny sense of humor. I will miss our margaritas, but will raise one to the stars to celebrate your life and the light of understanding you shone so brightly on them for the rest of us. You were and are a true inspiration for me and for millions around the world. Thank you.”
Hawking was also a pop culture juggernaut, making guest appearances on TV shows that included “The Simpsons,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.”
“Simpsons” writers Matt Selman and Al Jean, the “Big Bang” cast, “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s” Brent Spiner, and Oliver were among those in Hollywood who paid tribute to the scientist.
Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963, when he was 21 years old and was given a life expectancy of two more years. His disease progressed more slowly than originally thought, however, and he went on to continue pursuing research.
In 1970, Hawking had his first major scientific breakthrough, when he and Roger Penrose extended the mathematics of black holes to the entire universe and showed that a singularity was the origin of the big bang. This discovery kicked off a series of further innovations, including the proposal that black holes radiate heat.
Hawking was elected to the Royal Society in 1974 at the young age of 32. He became the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge five years later, a post which had formerly been held by Isaac Newton and Charles Babbage and is one of the most prestigious posts in Britain. Hawking remained in the position for 30 years, then became director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.
“A Brief History of Time,” Hawking’s book describing cosmology for laypeople, was published in 1988 and turned him into an international household name. The book stayed on the Sunday Times’ best seller list for an unprecedented 237 weeks.
Hawking married his first wife Jane in 1965, with whom he had three children and who chronicled their marriage, which eventually broke down in 1991, in her book “Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen.” After their divorce, he married Elaine Mason, one of the nurses who was hired to provide round-the-clock care. Their marriage lasted 11 years.
Hawking was known for his contentiousness and outspoken nature, and courted controversy many times in his life, though he often meant his cracks in good humor. He was known for making scientific bets, many of which he lost.
In 2012, his 70th birthday was celebrated in Cambridge, and though he was not able to attend due to illness, he released a video message entitled “A Brief History of Mine.” In it, he called for the continued exploration of space “for the future of humanity.” Without spreading out into space, humans would not “survive another thousand years,” he said.
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Anthony McCarten, who received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay “The Theory of Everything,” wrote a eulogy in honor of Hawking.
“Stephen Hawking’s life was devoted to wondering and to wonder. Upon hearing that he died today my first thought was that if you’d told him at 21, when he received the cold verdict from a doctor that he had two years to live, and there was nothing they could do for him medically, that he’d never have imagined he’d live another 55 years. He was a molecular miracle, both physically and intellectually, and it was one of the great honors of my life to have met him, spent some time with him, and been his cinematic biographer. I will always remember his reaction to his first viewing of “The Theory of Everything.” As the lights rose in the private theatre his nurse wiped a tear from his cheek and he began to type – a laborious process for him – his verdict: “Broadly true.” His place in history is assured, for his pioneering work on understanding black holes and the early universe, but I will remember him for his bravery, his wit, and the object lesson he delivered every day, that life is what you make it. Travel well Steve, to your rightful place among the stars. I trust that in death you have fulfilled your life’s ambition, to know the mind of God.”
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