Sunday, July 22News That Matters

Stephen Hawking, celebrity physicist who battled ALS, dies at 76


LONDON — Stephen Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, died early Wednesday, a University of Cambridge spokesman said.

He was 76 years old.

Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge, England.

The best-known theoretical physicist of his time, Hawking wrote so lucidly of the mysteries of space, time and black holes that his book, “A Brief History of Time,” became an international best seller, making him one of science’s biggest celebrities since Albert Einstein.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement. “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.”

Even though his body was attacked by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, when Hawking was 21, he stunned doctors by living with the normally fatal illness for more than 50 years. A severe attack of pneumonia in 1985 left him breathing through a tube, forcing him to communicate through an electronic voice synthesizer that gave him his distinctive robotic monotone.

But he continued his scientific work, appeared on television and married for a second time.

As one of Isaac Newton’s successors as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Hawking was involved in the search for the great goal of physics — a “unified theory.”

Such a theory would resolve the contradictions between Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which describes the laws of gravity that govern the motion of large objects like planets, and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, which deals with the world of subatomic particles.

For Hawking, the search was almost a religious quest — he said finding a “theory of everything” would allow mankind to “know the mind of God.”

“A complete, consistent unified theory is only the first step: our goal is a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence,” he wrote in “A Brief History of Time.”

In later years, though, he suggested a unified theory might not exist.

He followed up “A Brief History of Time” in 2001 with the more accessible sequel “The Universe in a Nutshell,” updating readers on concepts like super gravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.

Hawking said belief in a God who intervenes in the universe “to make sure the good guys win or get rewarded in the next life” was wishful thinking.

PHOTOS: Remembering Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

Stephen William Hawking, center, the world-renowned physicist, arrives in Beijing on Friday, Aug. 16, 2002. Hawking is in China for the upcoming 2002 International Congress of Mathematicians that will be held in Beijing from Aug. 20 to 28. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Chen Jianli)

FILE – In this file photo dated Monday, 30 March, 2015, Professor Stephen Hawking, front right, and Professor Kip Thorne, left, arrive for the Interstellar Live show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The Nobel Physics Prize 2017 is announced Monday Oct. 3, 2017, awarded jointly to three scientists Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP FILE)

Stephen Hawking, professor of mathematics and physics from the Cambridge University in Great Britain is seen prior to a press conference in Munich, southern Germany on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2001. Hawking promotes his new book “The Universe inside a nutshell”. (AP Photo/Uwe Lein)

Famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking is seen at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge, England Friday, Jan. 11, 2002. Leading scientists from around the world gathered at the center to attend a 60th-birthday symposium celebrating Professor Hawking’s contribution to fundamental physics and cosmology. The professor suffers from a form of motor neurone disease. (AP Photo/Richard Lewis)

FILE – In this March 6, 2017 file photo, Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking is presented with his illuminated Freedom scroll by the Chamberlain of the City of London Peter Kane as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London. Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, has died, a family spokesman said early Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

Stephen Hawking, professor of mathematics and physics from the Cambridge University in Great Britain, is seen during a press conference in Munich, southern Germany on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2001. Hawking promotes his new book “The Universe inside a nutshell”. (AP Photo/Uwe Lein)

Russian tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner, left, speaks next to renowned physicist Stephen Hawking during a press conference in London, Monday, July 20, 2015. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner are pushing the search for extraterrestrial life into higher gear. The pair said Monday the $100 million “Breakthrough Initiatives” program funded by Milner will harness computer power as never before in a search of the heavens. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking answers questions on a computer attached to his wheelchair, during an interview in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, April 24, 2007. Hawking, 65, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, will go on a weightless flight on Thursday aboard a modified Boeing 727. He will be the first person with a disability to fly on the one of the flights offered by Zero Gravity Corp., a space tourism company. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking communicates with the media using a computer voice synthesizer during a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center landing strip in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Thursday, April 26, 2007. Hawking is scheduled to take a zero gravity flight from the Kennedy Space Center. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Physicist and best-selling author Stephen Hawking appears in Seattle, Saturday, June 16, 2012. Hawking was taking part in the Seattle Science Festival Luminaries Series. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking from the University of Cambridge, left, shakes hands with Paul Chu, President of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, during a tree-planting ceremony at the university in Hong Kong Tuesday, June 13, 2006. Hawking, author of the global best-seller a “Brief History of Time”, arrived in Hong Kong on Monday and plans to give a lecture on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

British astrophysicist, Dr. Stephen Hawking, far right, is shown with, from left to right: diplomat George F. Kennan; naturalist Jane Goodall; art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich; and American economist Paul Samuelson, Feb. 22, 1989, in New York, during a ceremony celebrating their Britannica Awards. (AP Photo/Mario Cabrera)

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking, left, joined by a group of of scientist including Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson, right, announce the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, during a press conference, Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is assisted off the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center by his caregiver, Monica Guy, as he is applauded by members of the flight crew after completing a zero-gravity flight, Thursday, April 26, 2007, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Free of his wheelchair and tethered only to heart rate and blood pressure monitors, Hawking on Thursday fulfilled a dream of floating weightless on a zero-gravity jet, a step he hopes leads to further space adventures. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner, left, listens as renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, right, speaks with the assistance of adaptive speech technology, during a press conference announcing the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, Tuesday April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

British astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, crippled with Lou Gehrig’s disease, addresses a symposium on astrophysics with the aid of a computerized voice synthesizer in Chicago, Dec. 16, 1986. (AP Photo/David Banks)

Professor Stephen Hawking and former wife Jane Hawking arrive on the blue carpet for the UK premiere of The Theory Of Everything at the Odeon in Leicester Square, central London, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking delivers a keynote speech as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London, Monday, March 6, 2017. Hawking was presented the City of London Corporation’s highest award Monday in recognition of his outstanding contribution to theoretical physics and cosmology. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Well-known physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, left, visits with Mitchell Bourque, 6, of Templeton, Mass., during a visit by Hawking, Thursday, Oct. 7, 1999, to Children’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Hawking communicated with patients and staff at the hospital’s Communication Enhancement Center, a facility offering services for chikdren and adults with severe speech, language and writing problems. (AP Photo/Julia Malakie)

Scientist Stephen Hawking poses with his new wife Elaine Mason after they were married at the register office at Shire Hall in Cambridge Friday, Sept. 15, 1995. Hawking, 53, suffers from a crippling motor neuron disease . Mason was his former nurse and her ex-husband David was the computer engineer who adapted the scientist’s voice synthesiser so it would fit onto his wheelchair. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Physicist and best-selling author Stephen Hawking appears in Seattle, Saturday, June 16, 2012. Hawking was taking part in the Seattle Science Festival Luminaries Series. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

** FILE ** Renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking from the University of Cambridge listens to reporter’s questions at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong Tuesday, June 13, 2006. Hawking, who authored the best-selling book, “A Brief History of Time,” soon will experience a brief history with weightlessness – in April, he plans to go on a weightless flight. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking left, receives applause from the crowd after commenting during the dedication of an auditorium named after him at the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy on the Texas A&M campus Monday April 5, 2010 in College Station. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)

British astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, 47, answers newsmen with the help of his computer and the assistance of his wife Jane, in Paris, March 3, 1989. Hawking, who has a motor neuron disease communicates with the help of a voice-equipped computer. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

Professor Stephen Hawking during a press conference in London, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. Professor Hawking and Intel discussed the latest developments on how technology enhancements are going to have a wider impact on those, like Professor Hawking that suffer from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, in a wheelchair, is photographed as he prepares to speak at an international gathering of scientists on the origins of the universe at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People Monday, June 19, 2006. Hawking was in Beijing to attend the “Strings 2006” conference on the riddle of string theory which, if solved, could help unlock the mysteries of black holes and the creation of the universe. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

Former President Nelson Mandela, right, meets with British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking, left, in Johannesburg, Thursday, May 15, 2008. Hawking, who has devoted his career to finding the origins of the universe, is in the country to begin a search for Africa?s answer to Einstein. Some of the world?s leading high-tech entrepreneurs and scientists have backed a ?75m plan to create Africa?s first postgraduate centres for advanced maths and physics, after the British government declined to provide funding. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell/pool)

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking attends a press conference in London, Monday, July 20, 2015. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner are pushing the search for extraterrestrial life into higher gear. The pair said Monday the $100 million “Breakthrough Initiatives” program funded by Milner will harness computer power as never before in a search of the heavens. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Front: Professor Stephen Hawking, right, Nobel Prize winner Professor Sir Harry Kroto, left. Rear from left, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, Richard Dawkins, ‘Queen’ guitarist and astrophysicist, Brian May, and astrophysicist Professor Garik Israelian, at the announcement of a major new award for science communication commissioned by the science outreach festival STARMUS at a press conference in London, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking delivers a keynote speech flanked by Lord Mayor of the City of London Andrew Parmley as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London, Monday, March 6, 2017. Hawking was presented the City of London Corporation’s highest award Monday in recognition of his outstanding contribution to theoretical physics and cosmology. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Professor Stephen Hawking, listens to a press conference of ‘Queen’ guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May, astrophysicist Professor Garik Israelian, Nobel Prize winner Professor Sir Harry Kroto, Richard Dawkins, and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov to announce a major new award for science communication commissioned by the science outreach festival STARMUS at a press conference in London, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, Professor at the University of Cambridge, delivers a lecture on “The creation of the universe” for the 450th anniversary of the University of Geneva, in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009. The presentation marks the sixth in a series of academic conferences organized by the university. (AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Theoretical physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking talks before a group of disabled students in Seattle, July 1, 1993. Hawking, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and speaks with the aid of a synthesizer, is one of the early developers of the theory of black holes. He currently holds the Lucasian Professorship at Cambridge University, which was once held by Sir Isaac Newton. (AP Photo/Dave Wearver)

FILE In this June 19, 2006 file photo Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking speaks at an international gathering of scientists on the origins of the universe at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in China. British scientist Stephen Hawking has decoded some of the most puzzling mysteries of the universe but he has left one mystery for others to explain: How he managed to survive so long with such a crippling disease. The physicist and cosmologist was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or motor neuron disease, when he was a 21-year-old student at Cambridge University. Most people die within a few years of the disease being identified. On Sunday, Hawking will turn 70.(AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel-File)

Pope Francis greets physicist Stephen Hawking during an audience with participants at a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, at the Vatican, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. (L’Osservatore Romano/pool photo via AP)

Elaine Mason leaves the register office at Shire Hall in Cambridge with her new husband Stephen Hawking following a marriage ceremony Friday, Sept. 15, 1995. Mason was the scientist’s former nurse. He suffers from a crippling motor neuron disease and uses a voice synthesiser to speak. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

President Barack Obama holds the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to be presented Stephen Hawking during presentation ceremonies in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

** FILE ** In this April 21, 2008 file photo, Professor Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge, makes remarks at an event marking the 50th anniversary of NASA, at George Washington University in Washington. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, File)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking answers questions on a computer attached to his wheelchair, during an interview in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, April 24, 2007. Hawking, who has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his adult life, expects weightlessness to feel like “bliss” when he goes on a “zero-gravity” flight Thursday aboard a refitted jet. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, left, gets a kiss from Beverly Guster, right, prior to the dedication of an auditorium named after him at the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy on the Texas A&M campus Monday April 5, 2010 in College Station. Guster is a staff member of the Institute. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)

Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking, at left, receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London, Monday, March 6, 2017. Hawking was presented the City of London Corporation’s highest award Monday in recognition of his outstanding contribution to theoretical physics and cosmology. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Actress Jessica Chastain from left to right, Professor Brian Cox, Professor Stephen Hawking (front centre) and Professor Kip Thorne, pose for photographers upon arrival for the Interstellar Live show at the Royal Albert Hall in central London, Monday, 30 March, 2015. Christopher Nolan’s film will be shown on the big screen, whilst composer Hans Zimmer leads a 60-piece orchestra and the Hall’s Grand Organ in a simultaneous performance of the movie’s Academy and BAFTA nominated score. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

FILE – In this Dec. 16, 2015 file photo, professor Stephen Hawking listens to a news conference in London. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, said that August’s temperature of 61.74 degrees (16.52 Celsius) was the 16th month in a row that Earth set a record for the hottest month. NOAA monitoring chief Deke Arndt said it was also the hottest summer, with 2016 on pace to smash last year’s record for the hottest year. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Stephen Hawking, British astrophysicist, is shown in Chicago Monday, Dec. 15, 1986. (AP Photo/Banks)

FILE – In this March 6, 2017 file photo, Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking delivers a keynote speech as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London. Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, has died, a family spokesman said early Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

British physicist Stephen Hawking attends the 2010 World Science Festival opening night gala performance at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

Stephen Hawking arrives for the British Academy Film and Television Awards 2015, The BAFTAs, at the Royal Opera House, in London, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)

Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking receives a hand shake from Lord Mayor of the City of London Andrew Parmley as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London, Monday, March 6, 2017. Hawking was presented the City of London Corporation’s highest award Monday in recognition of his outstanding contribution to theoretical physics and cosmology. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Actor Eddie Redmayne, right and Professor Stephen Hawking arrive on the blue carpet for the UK premiere of The Theory Of Everything at the Odeon in Leicester Square, central London, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Professor Stephen Hawking and former wife Jane Hawking, right, arrive on the blue carpet for the UK premiere of The Theory Of Everything at the Odeon in Leicester Square, central London, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Stephen Hawking, British astrophysicist, is shown in Chicago Monday, Dec. 15, 1986. (AP Photo/Banks)

Physicist Stephen Hawking, left, looks at a new custom-built computer designed espescially for him with Dr. Gordon Moore of the Intel Corporation in the library of The Issac Newton Institute of Mathematics in Cambridge, England Thursday, March 20, 1997. The scientist, now 55, has suffered the debilitation of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, since his 20s. (AP Photo/Ron Kampeas)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is assisted off the bus by caregiver Monica Guy as Chairman and CEO of Zero Gravity Peter Diamandis, second from left , waits on the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center landing strip in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Thursday, April 26, 2007. A jet carrying Hawking later took off from the Kennedy Space Center on a flight to simulate zero gravity. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Stephen Hawking waits as President Barack Obama prepares to give him a 2009 Medal of freedom during ceremonies in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Professor Stephen Hawking arrives for the Interstellar Live show at the Royal Albert Hall in central London, Monday, 30 March, 2015. Christopher Nolan’s film will be shown on the big screen, whilst composer Hans Zimmer leads a 60-piece orchestra and the Hall’s Grand Organ in a simultaneous performance of the movie’s Academy and BAFTA nominated score. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking is applauded by Lord Mayor of the City of London Andrew Parmley as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London, Monday, March 6, 2017. Hawking was presented the City of London Corporation’s highest award Monday in recognition of his outstanding contribution to theoretical physics and cosmology. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

FILE In this Thursday, April 26, 2007 file photo Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is assisted off the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center by his carer, Monica Guy, as he is applauded by members of the flight crew after completing a zero-gravity flight in Cape Canaveral, Fla. British scientist Stephen Hawking has decoded some of the most puzzling mysteries of the universe but he has left one mystery for others to explain: How he managed to survive so long with such a crippling disease. The physicist and cosmologist was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or motor neuron disease, when he was a 21-year-old student at Cambridge University. Most people die within a few years of the disease being identified. On Sunday, Hawking will turn 70.(AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove, File )

Professor Stephen Hawking, center, of the University of Cambridge is accompanied by Paul Ching-wu Chu, right, President of Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, on his arrivial at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong Monday June 12, 2006. Hawking, on his six day visit in Hong Kong, is scheduled to deliver a speech at the university. ( AP Photo/Lo Sai Hung )

Lucy Hawking, right, with her father, professor Stephen Hawking, makes remarks at an event marking the 50th anniversary of NASA, Monday, April 21, 2008, at George Washington University in Washington. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

FILE – In this Thursday, April 26, 2007 file photo physicist Stephen Hawking answers questions during an interview in Orlando, Fla. Famed mathematician Stephen Hawking has been rushed to a hospital and is seriously ill, Cambridge University said Monday April 20, 2009 .British scientist Stephen Hawking has decoded some of the most puzzling mysteries of the universe but he has left one mystery for others to explain: How he managed to survive so long with such a crippling disease. The physicist and cosmologist was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or motor neuron disease, when he was a 21-year-old student at Cambridge University. Most people die within a few years of the disease being identified. On Sunday, Hawking will turn 70. (AP Photo/John Raoux. File )

President Barack Obama applauds after presenting the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Stephen Hawking, the renown theoretical physicist and Cambridge University professor, during ceremonies at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

**FILE**Stephen Hawking smiles during a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center landing strip in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on April 26, 2007. Hawking, author of the million-selling “A Brief History of Time,” is writing a “middle-grade” novel. “George’s Secret Key to the Universe,” the story of a young man’s computer-driven adventures, will be published this fall by Simon & Schuster, the company said Thursday, June 14, 2007. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Pope Francis greets physicist Stephen Hawking during an audience with participants at a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, at the Vatican, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. (L’Osservatore Romano/pool photo via AP)

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is assisted off the tarmac by Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of Zero Gravity, at the Kennedy Space Center landing strip in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, April 26, 2007. Hawking fulfilled a dream of floating weightless on a zero-gravity jet, a step he hopes leads to further space adventures. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

British astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, crippled with Lou Gehrig’s disease, addresses a symposium on astrophysics with the aid of a computerized voice synthesizer in Chicago, Dec. 16, 1986. (AP Photo/David Banks)

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II meets Professor Stephen Hawking, inside the Music Room at Buckingham Palace, Thursday May 18, 2006. The Queen was greeting around 500 guests as part of a ‘Service Beyond Sixty Reception’. (AP Photo/ Johnny Green/Pool)

Stephen Hawking, Jane Wilde and Lucy Hawking arrives for the British Academy Film and Television Awards 2015, The BAFTAs, at the Royal Opera House, in London, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)

Physicist and best-selling author Stephen Hawking, center, appears in Seattle with the help of his assistant, right, and nurse, left, Saturday, June 16, 2012. Hawking was taking part in the Seattle Science Festival Luminaries Series. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner, left, and renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, right, seated in a speech adaptive wheelchair, discuss the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, during a press conference, Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, right, seated in a speech adaptive wheelchair, discuss the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, during a press conference on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

FILE – In this March 30, 2015 file photo, Professor Stephen Hawking poses for photographers upon arrival for the Interstellar Live show at the Royal Albert Hall in central London. Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, has died, a family spokesman said early Wednesday, March 14, 2018.(Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP, File)

“But one can’t help asking the question: Why does the universe exist?” he said in 1991. “I don’t know an operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a meaning. But it bothers me.”

Celebrity scientist

The combination of his best-selling book and his almost total disability — for a while he could use a few fingers, later he could only tighten the muscles on his face — made him one of science’s most recognizable faces.

He made cameo television appearances in “The Simpsons” and “Star Trek” and counted among his fans U2 guitarist The Edge, who attended a January 2002 celebration of Hawking’s 60th birthday.

His early life was chronicled in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything,” with Eddie Redmayne winning the best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of the scientist. The film focused still more attention on Hawking’s remarkable achievements.

Some colleagues credited that celebrity with generating new enthusiasm for science.

His achievements and his longevity helped prove to many that even the most severe disabilities need not stop patients from living.

Richard Green, of the Motor Neurone Disease Association — the British name for ALS — said Hawking met the classic definition of the disease, as “the perfect mind trapped in an imperfect body.” He said Hawking had been an inspiration to people with the disease for many years.

Although it could take him minutes to compose answers to even simple questions Hawking said the disability did not impair his work. It certainly did little to dampen his ambition to physically experience space himself: Hawking savored small bursts of weightlessness in 2007 when he was flown aboard a jet that made repeated dives to simulate zero-gravity.

Hawking had hoped to leave Earth’s atmosphere altogether someday, a trip he often recommended to the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.

“In the long run the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet,” Hawking said in 2008. “I just hope we can avoid dropping the basket until then.”

‘Hawking radiation’

Hawking first earned prominence for his theoretical work on black holes. Disproving the belief that black holes are so dense that nothing could escape their gravitational pull, he showed that black holes leak a tiny bit of light and other types of radiation, now known as “Hawking radiation.”

“It came as a complete surprise,” said Gary Horowitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It really was quite revolutionary.”

Horowitz said the find helped move scientists one step closer to cracking the unified theory.

Hawking’s other major scientific contribution was to cosmology, the study of the universe’s origin and evolution.

Working with Jim Hartle of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hawking proposed in 1983 that space and time might have no beginning and no end.

“Asking what happens before the Big Bang is like asking for a point one mile north of the North Pole,” he said.

In 2004, he announced that he had revised his previous view that objects sucked into black holes simply disappeared, perhaps to enter an alternate universe. Instead, he said he believed objects could be spit out of black holes in a mangled form.

That new theory capped his three-decade struggle to explain a paradox in scientific thinking: How can objects really “disappear” inside a black hole and leave no trace, as he long believed, when subatomic theory says matter can be transformed but never fully destroyed?

Decades with ALS

Hawking was born Jan. 8, 1942, in Oxford, and grew up in London and St. Albans, northwest of the capital. In 1959, he entered Oxford University and then went on to graduate work at Cambridge.

Signs of illness appeared in his first year of graduate school, and he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankee star who died of it. The disease usually kills within three to five years.

According to John Boslough, author of “Stephen Hawking’s Universe,” Hawking became deeply depressed. But as it became apparent that he was not going to die soon, his spirits recovered and he bore down on his work. Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said only 5 percent of those diagnosed with ALS survive for 10 years or longer. Hawking, he added, “really is at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to survival.”

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965 and they had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy.

Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years, until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.

He was inducted into the Royal Society in 1974 and received the Albert Einstein Award in 1978. In 1989, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Companion of Honor, one of the highest distinctions she can bestow.

He whizzed about Cambridge at surprising speed — usually with nurses or teaching assistants in his wake — traveled and lectured widely, and appeared to enjoy his fame. He retired from his chair as Lucasian Professor in 2009 and took up a research position with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

Hawking divorced Jane in 1991, an acrimonious split that strained his relationship with their children. Writing in her autobiographical “Music to Move the Stars,” she said the strain of caring for Hawking for nearly three decades had left her feeling like “a brittle, empty shell.”

Hawking married his one-time nurse Elaine Mason four years later, but the relationship was dogged by rumors of abuse.

Police investigated in 2004 after newspapers reported that he’d been beaten, suffering injuries including a broken wrist, gashes to the face and a cut lip, and was left stranded in his garden on the hottest day of the year.

Hawking called the charges “completely false.” Police found no evidence of any abuse. Hawking and Mason separated in 2006.

Lucy Hawking said her father had an exasperating “inability to accept that there is anything he cannot do.”

“I accept that there are some things I can’t do,” he told The Associated Press in 1997. “But they are mostly things I don’t particularly want to do anyway.”

Then, grinning widely, he added, “I seem to manage to do anything that I really want.”

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