Stephen Hawking, Beloved Physicist and Pop Culture Fixture, Dies at 76
There aren’t too many famous or beloved scientists in our world, and now there is one less. Stephen Hawking, one of the most renowned and influential physicists in history, has died. He was 76 years old.
76 is not an old man, but a remarkable lifespan for Hawking, who suffered from a degenerative motor neuron disease since the age of 21. He was at first told his condition would kill him within two years. Instead, Hawking soldiered on for five more decades, and achieved a level of success and pop-culture ubiquity almost unheard of in his profession. Hawking not only became a scientific term (“Hawking radiation” is used to describe the radiation that emanates from black holes, a favorite subject of Hawking’s research and writing), it also became a household name.
In recent years, Hawking was probably most famous in non-scientific circles as the subject of The Theory of Everything, a biopic about his life, his battles with his disease, and his relationship with his first wife Jane. Eddie Redmayne played Stephen Hawking in the film, and won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2015. (Felicity Jones played Jane.)
Long before The Theory of Everything, though, Hawking was a best-selling author and a fixture in popular culture. His best-selling science book A Brief History of Time became the basis for a 1991 documentary by Errol Morris. (It’s currently available to stream on Filmstruck.)
The success of A Brief History of Time across various mediums turned Hawking into a celebrity, and he often appeared as himself in film and television cameos. His funniest appearance was probably his guest spot on The Simpsons, where he teaches Lisa about life and steals Homer’s theory of a donut-shaped universe.
And, of course, Hawking also played a holodeck version of himself on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he and other “holographic” versions of famous physicists played poker with the Enterprise’s resident android, Data.
Hawking dreamed of creating a “theory of everything” that could explain all life and phenomena in the universe. He never achieved that goal, but in living his life the way he did, he promoted science to generations, inspiring countless others to read and learn. Someday, someone he inspired will find that theory, and we’ll have Hawking to thank all over again.