Remembering Stephen Hawking

The renowned theoretical physicist has died at the age of 76.

Stephen Hawking
Dennis Van Tine / STAR MAX / IPx / AP

Stephen Hawking, the iconic English theoretical physicist, has died. He was 76.

Hawking died in the early hours of Wednesday morning at his home in Cambridge, England, his children—Lucy, Robert, and Tim—said in a statement, according to The Guardian.

“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 humor inspired people across the world,” his children said. “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 renowned scientist was known for his contributions to the study of the universe, from the origins of the cosmos to the mysterious nature of black holes. Hawking’s career spanned more than five decades and refused to slow down even as a debilitating neurological disease gradually paralyzed him and confined him to a wheelchair. The longtime Cambridge professor was known for roaming the campus grounds in his electric chair, dashing from one engagement to another and speaking in the deadpan, robotic voice of his speech synthesizer.

Hawking’s classic work, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, published in 1988, has sold more than 10 million copies.

In the midst of his intense work, Hawking also knew how to have some fun. In 2009, he decided to throw a party with lots of champagne. He didn’t release the invitations to the event until after it was over. The point, Hawking said, was to determine whether time travel was real. If the guests he’d picked had shown up to the party, Hawking would have proof that time travelers exist in the future.

“I sat there a long time, but no one came,” Hawking said of the affair.

Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford. He attended St. Albans School as a child and University College at Oxford as a young man. Hawking wanted to study math, but because the school didn’t offer courses in the subject, Hawking went with physics instead.

In 1962, Hawking arrived at the University of Cambridge to work on cosmology, the study of the origins and evolution of the universe. A year later, shortly after his 21st birthday, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Hawking beat doctors’ grim predictions for his lifespan and lived with the condition for many decades.

Few scientists ever become household names in the way Hawking did. His fierce intellect and endless curiosity about the mysteries of the universe captivated audiences around the world, from the most brilliant scientists to small children. In an interview with the BCC last year, his daughter, Lucy, described how her father could capture the attention of everyone in the room.

“My father always had lots of scientific colleagues who would come for dinner pretty much every night, and they would discuss extraordinary topics. No topic was out of bounds,” she said. “And as a child, you could ask any question you wanted and get a reply. I think it was my son’s eighth or ninth birthday party, and one of my son’s friends went up to my dad and said, ‘Oh, Stephen, what would happen to me if I fell in a black hole?’ And everyone was really interested and everyone waited for the answer. And my father said, ‘You’d be turned into spaghetti.’ Of course, all the kids were really thrilled and they totally understood his answer. And all the adults kind of pretended they did.”