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5 things you need to know about Stephen Hawking, who died overnight at age 76

Updated Mar 14th, 2018 7:03AM EDT
Stephen Hawking Death Cause
Image: Jason Bye/REX/Shutterstock

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Brilliant British physicist Stephen Hawking died overnight at age 76. Hawking’s family confirmed his passing in a statement, saying that the professor died peacefully in his home in Cambridge, England in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, March 14th.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” his three children Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a joint statement given to the media. “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. 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.”

Mr. Hawking was a renowned professor at Cambridge University in England, and was the author of the best-selling book “A Brief History of Time.” Hawking was credited with helping to bring science to the masses. He shaped mankind’s understanding of cosmology and the origins of the universe, showing that the universe began about 13.7 billion years ago by explaining how Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity eventually breaks down when time and space are traced back that far. Hawking’s death would coincidentally occur on Albert Einstein’s birthday, which is also referred to as Pi Day because it can be written as 3/14, the first three digits of the number pi.

How did he die?

This is among the top questions on people’s minds Wednesday morning, and it’s an important one to answer — if for no other reason than to acknowledge how miraculous is was that the renowned scientist lived for as long as he did.

Hawking suffered from, and would ultimately succumb to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as motor neurone disease (MND). It is also commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a debilitating disease that destroys the neurons which control voluntary muscles in the body.

The professor was diagnosed at age 21 and spent most of his life confined to a wheelchair. He was one of the world’s longest survivors of ALS when he died at age 76.

What he said about his own death

Having been diagnosed with ALS at such a young age, Hawking was known to speak about his death.

“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,” Hawking said in 2011 during an interview with The Guardian. He also dismissed the notion of an afterlife in the same interview.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he said. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

He was a best-selling author

Hawking’s book “A Brief History of Time” was published in 1988, and it went on to spend a record 233 weeks on the U.K.’s Sunday Times best-sellers list. It was also a New York Times best-seller. The book was translated into more than 40 languages and has sold at least 10 million copies since its initial publication.

“A Brief History of Time” is described on Hawking’s website as follows:

Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, wrote the modern classic A Brief History of Time to help non-scientists understand fundamental questions of physics and our existence: where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? Will it come to an end, and if so, how?

Hawking attempts to deal with these questions (and where we might look for answers) using a minimum of technical jargon. Among the topics gracefully covered are gravity, black holes, the Big Bang, the nature of time and physicists’ search for a grand unifying theory.

This is deep science; the concepts are so vast (or so tiny) that they cause mental vertigo while reading, and one can’t help but marvel at Hawking’s ability to synthesize this difficult subject for people not used to thinking about things like alternate dimensions. The journey is certainly worth taking for as Hawking says, the reward of understanding the universe may be a glimpse of “the mind of God”.

The book is available on Amazon in several different formats, including as a free audiobook for Audible subscribers.

He was hilarious

Hawking wasn’t just a brilliant mind, he had a tremendous sense of humor. That humor manifested itself most recently in the public eye as a recurring role on the wildly popular CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. Hawking played himself, and made several appearances on the show to chastise one of the two lead characters, a quirky theoretical physicist named Sheldon Cooper.

Professor Hawking was also rumored to regularly run over the toes of people he didn’t like with his electric wheelchair. It is said that one of his greatest regrets is that he never ran over the toes of prime minister Margaret Thatcher, though Hawking denied the rumor — somewhat unconvincingly.

“A malicious rumour,” he told Kitty Ferguson, author of his 2012 biography. “I’ll run over anyone who repeats it.”

He believed mankind would bring about its own extinction

Though Hawking had a tremendous sense of humor, he was a scientist first, and he was concerned that mankind was marching toward its own demise. Hawking said in November 2017 during the Tencent WE Summit in Beijing that humans would consume enough energy to turn the Earth into a giant ball of fire by the year 2600. The professor believed that it is likely far too late to change course at this point, and humanity’s only chance of survival is to escape planet Earth.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.

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