Professor Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist and author of A Brief History of Time, has died at the age of 76.
He died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning, his family said.
Prof Hawking, one of the world’s finest scientific minds, was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease in 1964 at the age of 22 and was given just a few years to live.
He eventually became confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a computerised voice system for communication.
Despite this, he continued to travel the world giving lectures and writing scientific papers about the basic laws that govern the universe. Prof Hawking explained the Big Bang and black holes in his best-selling book A Brief History Of Time.
As tributes to the acclaimed physicist poured in from around the world, Prime Minister Theresa May said he was “a brilliant and extraordinary mind – one of the great scientists of his generation” whose “courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration”.
The University of Cambridge said he was “an inspiration to millions” and his work will leave “an indelible legacy”.
Eddie Redmayne, who starred as Professor Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, said in a statement: “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
In a statement early on Wednesday, Prof Hawking’s children Lucy, Robert and Tim said: “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.”
Prof Hawking was born on January 8 1942 in Oxford, the eldest of four children, and went on to become one of the world’s most acclaimed cosmologists.
Prof Hawking arrived at the University of Cambridge in 1962 as a PhD student, and rose through the ranks to become the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton, in 1979.
His most famous scientific insight concerned the arcane physics of black holes. He discovered the phenomenon which has become known as Hawking radiation, where black holes leak energy and fade to nothing.
Nasa remembered Prof Hawking as a “renowned physicist and ambassador of science”, while inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking.”
British astronaut Tim Peake said Prof Hawking “inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe”.
‘I try to lead as normal a life as possible’: Prof Hawking on living with ALS
Prof Hawking was left having to use a wheelchair by the time he was 30. In 1986, aged 44, his voice was removed to save his life after an attack of pneumonia.
From then on, he spoke through a computer synthesiser on the arm of his wheelchair.
“I am quite often asked: how do you feel about having ALS?” he once wrote. “The answer is, not a lot.
“I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many.”
Prof Hawking was Britain’s most famous modern day scientist, a genius with a razor-sharp wit who dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of the Universe.
“My goal is simple,” he once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
A Brief History of Time: A book ‘that would sell on airport bookstalls’
Much of Prof Hawking’s work centred on bringing together relativity – the nature of space and time – and quantum theory – how the smallest particles in the Universe behave – to explain the creation of the universe and how it is governed.
Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for no fewer than 237 weeks.
He said he wrote the book to convey his own excitement over recent discoveries about the universe.
“My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. “In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”
In 1974, he became one of the youngest fellows of Britain’s most prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, at the age of 32.
Five years later, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, where he had moved from Oxford University to study theoretical astronomy and cosmology. A previous holder of the prestigious post was the 17th-century British scientist Isaac Newton.
The news of his illness came as an enormous shock that for a time plunged the budding academic into deep despair.
But he was rescued by an old friend, Jane Wilde, who went on to become his first wife, giving him a family with three children. Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years, until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.
‘An inspiration to millions’ – University of Cambridge on Prof Hawking’s ‘indelible legacy’
Professor Stephen Hawking was “an inspiration to millions” and his work will leave “an indelible legacy”, the University of Cambridge has said.
He retired from this position as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 2009, and became the Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research in the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics until his death.
The university’s vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope said: “Professor Hawking was a unique individual who will be remembered with warmth and affection not only in Cambridge but all over the world.
“His exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy. His character was an inspiration to millions. He will be much missed.”
Prof Hawking was a fellow at the university’s Gonville and Caius College, where a book of condolence is due to be opened.
Astronomer Royal, Professor Lord Martin Rees, emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at Cambridge, said:
“Soon after I enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1964, I encountered a fellow student, two years ahead of me in his studies; he was unsteady on his feet and spoke with great difficulty.
“This was Stephen Hawking. He had recently been diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and it was thought that he might not survive long enough even to finish his PhD. But, amazingly, he lived on to the age of 76.
“Even mere survival would have been a medical marvel, but of course he didn’t just survive. He became one of the most famous scientists in the world – acclaimed as a world-leading researcher in mathematical physics, for his best-selling books about space, time and the cosmos, and for his astonishing triumph over adversity.
“Tragedy struck Stephen Hawking when he was only 22. He was diagnosed with a deadly disease, and his expectations dropped to zero.
“He himself said that everything that happened since then was a bonus. And what a triumph his life has been.
“His name will live in the annals of science – millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books, and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds – a manifestation of amazing willpower and determination.”
Eddie Redmayne on ‘the funniest man’ he ever met
Prof Hawking’s rise to fame and relationship with his first wife, Jane, was dramatised in a 2014 film, The Theory Of Everything.
Eddie Redmayne put in an Oscar-winning performance as the physicist battling with a devastating illness.
Following Prof Hawking’s death, Redmayne describing him as “the funniest man” he has ever met.
He said in a statement: “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.”
Benedict Cumberbatch will raise margarita ‘to the stars to celebrate your life’
Benedict Cumberbatch, who also played Prof Hawking on screen, said in a statement:
“I was so sad to hear that Stephen has died. 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 who’s 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 humour.
“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.”
An ambassador of science… a remarkable life: Tributes flood in from around world
The Prime Minister has led tributes to Professor Hawking, as scientists and celebrities hailed a man who had brought complex science to the masses.
Theresa May said: “Professor Stephen Hawking was a brilliant and extraordinary mind – one of the great scientists of his generation.
“His courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration. His legacy will not be forgotten.”
The US space agency, described Professor Hawking as an “ambassador of science” in a video post on Twitter.
Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014 pic.twitter.com/FeR4fd2zZ5
— NASA (@NASA) March 14, 2018
Professor Brian Cox
The scientist and broadcaster told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Prof Hawking was “one of the greats”.
“There are many good theoretical physicists who make a big contribution, but there aren’t that many greats,” he added.
“And by that I mean that I think there are physicists in a thousand years’ time, they will still be talking about Hawking radiation, they will be using his fundamental results on black holes.”
Sad to hear about Stephen Hawking. What a remarkable life. His contributions to science will be used as long as there are scientists, and there are many more scientists because of him. He spoke about the value and fragility of human life and civilisation and greatly enhanced both
— Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) March 14, 2018
He added: “Actually, the last time I saw him at his 75th birthday party, he was talking about the new gravitational wave experiment where we’ve seen the collisions of black holes, and speculating that those results might be able to prove some of his theorems once and for all.
“Plus his contributions to the physics of the very early universe, so there are at least three and possibly more areas where his work will be remembered as long as there are cosmologists and that’s the best you can hope for as a scientist.”
Lawrence M. Krauss, theoretical physicist
The best-selling author said a “star just went out in the cosmos”.
“We have lost an amazing human being. Stephen Hawking fought and tamed the cosmos bravely for 76 years and taught us all something important about what it truly means to celebrate about being human. I will miss him.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist
The American astrophysicist and author said Prof Hawking’s “passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake”.
His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018. pic.twitter.com/nAanMySqkt
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018
Sir Tim Berners-Lee
The inventor of the World Wide Web described Prof Hawking as having “a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit”.
He tweeted: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking.”
The former Countdown presenter described Prof Hawking as “a great man and friend”.
RIP Professor Stephen Hawking…a great man and friend. Thinking of Stephen’s family at this time ❤️Perhaps the RAF motto was written for him….”Per Ardua Ad Astra”….”Through Adversity To The Stars” ✨✨ https://t.co/YkRQnzKm2A
— Carol Vorderman (@carolvorders) March 14, 2018
Mayim Bialik, actress and neuroscientist
The actress met and worked with Prof Hawking when he appeared on US sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
She tweeted: “As we near Pi day (3.14) I join the global community in mourning the loss of the greatest physicist of our era.”
Along with a picture of Prof Hawking with the cast of the programme, she added: “He is soaring above us now marveling at it all.”
As we near Pi day (3.14) I join the global community in mourning the loss of the greatest physicist of our era. #StephenHawking is free from the physical constraints of this earthly condition we all exist in and he is soaring above us now marveling at it all. pic.twitter.com/o3V0TZrppj
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) March 14, 2018
The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki wrote on Instagram: “Not only your brilliance, but your sense of humor will be sorely missed by all.”
James Hartle, physicist
Mr Hartle, whose work with Prof Hawking led to the Hartle-Hawking model of the universe’s origins, said his colleague had “inspired a lot of people”.
Prof Hartle told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “What was unique about him was that he had a marvellous ability to see through all the clutter in physics and to see what the essential points are and that, of course, was a great thing for going forward.”
He added: “My memory of him would be on several fronts: first our work together, as a scientist, and second as a human being whose whole story is of triumph over adversity and who inspired a lot of people, including me.”
The organisers of the Paralympic Games described Prof Hawkins as “a pioneer of the human spirit”.
“We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run of the mill human being.”
Rest in peace Stephen, thank you for being a pioneer of the human spirit. You will be greatly missed. pic.twitter.com/kD9ViVCTBJ
— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) March 14, 2018
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among the politicians sharing tributes to Prof Hawking, saying: “Stephen Hawking inspired the world with his determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos.
“But he also showed breathtaking courage to overcome life’s adversities and a burning passion to protect our National Health Service. He will be greatly missed.”
Prof Hawking was a Labour supporter but in March 2017 said Mr Corbyn had been a “disaster” as leader, adding: “His heart is in the right place and many of his policies are sound, but he has allowed himself to be portrayed as a left-wing extremist.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was among the politicians sharing tributes, said Prof Hawking had “changed the way we see the universe”.
RIP Stephen Hawking – you changed the way we see the universe.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) March 14, 2018
European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted a tribute to Prof Hawking:
“It matters if you just don’t give up.” Remembering Stephen Hawking.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 14, 2018
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said Prof Hawking had “made the world a better place” and his death was “anguishing”.
Professor Stephen Hawking was an outstanding scientist and academic. His grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world. His demise is anguishing. Professor Hawking’s pioneering work made our world a better place. May his soul rest in peace.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 14, 2018
Errol Morris, film-maker
The film-maker, who made a biographical documentary called A Brief History of Time, said he was “funny, perverse, and, of course, brilliant”.
It had to happen, eventually. We were lucky to have him for so long, and I was lucky to be able to work with him. A truly fabulous human being. Stephen Hawking. Funny, perverse, and, of course, brilliant.
— errolmorris (@errolmorris) March 14, 2018
The campaign group thanked Prof Hawking for helping people understand their place in the universe and for “leaving us in awe and wonder”.
How Stephen Hawking made his mark on popular culture
He was an intellectual giant, but Professor Stephen Hawking also embraced popular culture. The celebrated physicist featured in cartoon The Simpsons and enjoyed a cameo in several episodes of The Big Bang Theory, the hit US sitcom about a group of science geeks.
In The Simpsons, a cartoon version of the professor, complete with voice generator, appeared in Springfield many times.
In the episode They Saved Lisa’s Brain, in which he appears with his flying wheelchair, Prof Hawking says: “Your theory of a doughnut shaped universe is intriguing Homer. I may have to steal it.”
He was so proud of his appearance in The Simpsons, which he called “the best thing on American television”, that he had a clock depicting Homer on a wall in his office.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
He also featured, in 1993, in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. His character was seen playing poker with Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
“The uncertainty principle will not help you now Stephen,” Einstein tells him.
He also appeared in Futurama, the other cartoon by Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening, in which he takes the credit for inventing gravity.
The Theory Of Everything
Eddie Redmayne played Professor Hawking in the film The Theory Of Everything, winning an Oscar for the role, portraying the scientist as a young man.
“He has a real force of charisma and humour and incisive wit and a sense of mischief”, Redmayne said of Prof Hawking.
Benedict Cumberbatch previously played Prof Hawking in TV film Hawking in 2004, for which he was Bafta nominated for best actor.
Why Professor Hawking never won the Nobel Prize
Professor Stephen Hawking’s groundbreaking work earned him dozens of accolades over his lifetime, but the coveted Nobel Prize always eluded him.
His discovery in 1974 that black holes should emit radiation was initially controversial as it was widely accepted that nothing, not even light, could escape their gravity.
His theory, dubbed “Hawking Radiation”, was based on mathematical concepts arising from quantum mechanics, the branch of science dealing with sub-atomic particles. It stated that this emission of radiation eventually causes black holes to “evaporate” and vanish.
Although it became widely accepted, Hawking Radiation was never proved by astronomers or physicists – if it had, it would almost certainly have earned him the Nobel Prize.
In January 2016, Prof Hawking gave a Reith Lecture broadcast on the BBC in which he joked that his lack of a Nobel Prize was “a pity”.
He said: “A mountain-sized black hole would give off X-rays and gamma rays, at a rate of about 10 million megawatts, enough to power the world’s electricity supply.
“It wouldn’t be easy however, to harness a mini black hole – about the only way to keep hold of it would be to have it in orbit around the Earth.
“People have searched for mini black holes of this mass, but have so far not found any. This is a pity because if they had I would have got a Nobel Prize.”
After the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2013, almost five decades after British physicist Peter Higgs developed the theory in the 1960s, Prof Hawking admitted he was disappointed the so-called “God particle” had been found.
The discovery earned Prof Higgs the Nobel Prize.
The Higgs boson is theorised to give other particles mass, but Prof Hawking said in a speech at London’s Science Museum: “Physics would be far more interesting if it had not been found,” because it would force scientists to develop alternative solutions to the problem of mass.
He joked: “I had a bet with Gordon Kane of Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn’t be found. The Nobel Prize cost me 100 dollars.”
Unafraid of ruffling the feathers of the religious
Hawking was an outspoken commentator on life back on earth, voicing his disapproval in recent years of both the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
He was unafraid of ruffling the feathers of the religious, dismissing the concept of an afterlife in a 2011 Guardian interview.
“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said at the time.
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he added.
He was also outspoken when it came to artificial intelligence, warning it “could spell the end of the human race.”
MND: The disease that kills a third of people in a year – Prof Hawking survived for half a century
Professor Hawking overcame a debilitating rare disease to become one of the world’s best known physicists.
He survived for around half a century after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND), despite being told he had just years to live when he was diagnosed.
The disease kills a third of people within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis, according to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Yet Prof Hawking was diagnosed with the condition in his early 20s and lived until he was 76. The condition is fatal, and usually progresses rapidly, affecting the brain and spinal cord.
MND is the collective name for a group of diseases that affect the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control movement.
The condition progressively damages parts of the nervous system which leads to muscle weakness, stiffening and waste.
About | Motor neurone disease
Sally Light, chief executive of the MND Association, said: “All of us at the MND Association have been extremely saddened by the news of Professor Hawking’s passing.
“Through so many years in the public eye he did a huge amount to raise awareness of motor neurone disease, yet he never allowed himself to be defined by his illness. His approach to life with MND is an example to all of us.”