Few scientists can claim to have been legends in their own lifetime but Stephen Hawking was certainly an exception. The theoretical physicist became one of the best-known and most-admired scientists in the world, which is quite remarkable for a theoretical physicist. Professor Hawking was best known for his popular book A Brief History Of Time (1988) – which millions bought but many were unable to get through to the end of the book. However, beyond the popularity of his book, Hawking was famous for his scientific work with theories around wedding Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity – general relativity – with the strange world of quantum mechanics which generally apply to things likes atoms and molecules. Hawking developed a theory that showed that black holes could boil themselves out of existence (Hawking Radiation) and developed equations that attempted to explain the entire history of the Universe, the so-called “Theory of everything.” The BBC described his most important discoveries and work:
- With the Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose, he showed that if there was a Big Bang, it must have started from an infinitely small point – a singularity
- Black holes radiate energy known as Hawking radiation, while gradually losing mass. This is due to quantum effects near the edge of the black hole, a region called the event horizon
- He predicted the existence of mini-black holes at the time of the Big Bang. These tiny black holes would have been incredibly hot, shedding mass until they vanished – potentially ending their lives in an explosion that would release vast amounts of energy
- In the 1970s, Hawking considered whether the particles and light that enter a black hole were ultimately destroyed if the black hole evaporated. Hawking initially thought that this “information” was lost from the Universe. But the US physicist Leonard Susskind disagreed. These ideas became known as the information paradox. In 2004, Hawking conceded that the information must be conserved.
- With the physicist James Hartle, he tried to describe the history of the cosmos in one mathematical expression – “The Wavefunction of the Universe”. But quantum theory shows that the distinctions between space and time are unclear. So the proposal showed there was little point in asking what happened before the Big Bang.
I am not a scientist or a cosmologist so will not attempt to define his work beyond reproducing the BBC’s breakdown above. You can read much more about his scientific work in detail via the links at the end of this post. What I will focus on for this post is more about Professor Hawking’s life, his battle with motor neurone disease and his ever-expanding adventures in popular culture via film, television and radio.
Born Stephen William Hawking in Oxford on 8 January 1942, Stephen’s father was a research biologist who had moved to the university city to escape the bombing in London during World War Two. Stephen grew up in London and St Albans before going back to Oxford to gain a first-class degree in physics from Oxford University. He then went to Cambridge University to do postgraduate research in cosmology (below). Stephen had enjoyed rowing and horse-riding as a teenager but his life was turned upside down when in 1964, aged 22, and while preparing to marry his girlfriend Jane, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given no more than two years to live.
Motor Neurone disease, which is also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive disease which results in the degeneration of motor neurones. When these neurones along with cells in the brain deteriorate, weakness and muscle wastage follows. This can lead to an inability to control the body and to an inability to breathe or swallow. Many people with the disease only live for a handful of years, but others live with it for many years. There is no cure but treatments can help reduce the impact it can have on daily life. Stephen Hawking would prove to be a remarkable and rare exception. When he died today he had lived with the disease for over fifty years. In the case of Stephen Hawking, his condition did not result in the loss of the ability to breathe or swallow, though over time he lost the ability to walk and slowly to move at all. For a long time he was able to speak but this came to an end after he had a bad case of pneumonia and doctors had to perform a tracheotomy to allow him to breathe. When he lost his voice he became dependent on a computer and a synthesised voice to communicate. He controlled this at first using a finger which still worked. However, when he lost this physical movement as well, the only means he had to control his computer was a single muscle in his cheek which he flexed to control an infra-red sensor in his glasses linked to his computer.
Despite his disorder, Stephen married his first wife Jane Wilde (right). They were married until 1995 when they divorced and had three children, Robert (1967), Lucy (1970) and Timothy (1979). Jane remarried after their divorce and continued her own academic career, gaining a PhD in Spanish poetry in 1981. Nevertheless, she continued to support Stephen after their divorce which followed from his affair with his carer and future wife, Elaine Mason. Jane recalled that as Stephen’s conditions worsened during their marriage, she suffered from depression and relied on her Christian faith to cope. She said that she had become a “chauffeur, nurse, valet, cup-bearer and interpreter, as well as companion wife.” Stephen and Elaine married in 1995 (below) and divorced in 2006 following a tempestuous relationship in which allegations were made by carers of Stephen that Elaine brutalised her husband. Stephen had been admitted to hospital several times for various injuries, but he maintains that they were caused by his notorious erratic driving of his wheelchair. Both Stephen and Elaine deny the allegations of abuse and no action was taken.
A year after his second divorce Stephen achieved a longtime wish and became the first quadriplegic to experience weightlessness on board the so-called “vomit comet,” which is a modified plane designed to simulate zero gravity. His obvious joy can be seen in the photo below. He did it to encourage interest in space travel, in support of which he also booked a seat on a future Sir Richard Branson Virgin Galactic sub-orbital space plane. Of his desire to encourage space travel he said: “I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.”
Hawking asserted in a series for the Discovery Channel that it was rational to believe that there was intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and that any such life might raid the earth for its resources. He also suggested that humanity could easily be wiped out by global warming, a comet or a virus pandemic. Such threats to humanity only strengthens the need to humanity to explore space and to find alternative places to live beyond Earth. He also collaborated with Russian investor Yuri Milner in the search for extra-terrestrial life.
TRIBUTES TO STEPHEN HAWKING
The Queen is to send a message of sympathy to Stephen Hawking’s family and a book of condolence has been opened in Cambridge, where he was a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics for 30 years – the same position once held by Sir Isaac Newton. The death of Professor Hawking has generated a plethora of tributes on news programmes and on social media, with pictures of empty wheelchairs trending online, such as the one pictured above. Here are some of the many tributes:
- Caltech physicist John Preskill: “I’ll remember the sharp wit and twinkling eyes; he never took himself too seriously. His friends will miss him terribly.”
- USA space agency NASA, 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.”
- Professor Brian Cox, University of Manchester: “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.”
- Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder: “I feel lucky to have known Stephen Hawking. His work is an inspiring reminder of what human minds are capable of.”
- Actress Mayim Bialik, co-star of The Big Bang Theory: “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 marvelling at it all.”
- TV producer Seth MacFarlne: “When a brilliant scientific mind like Stephen Hawking also happens to be a great popularizer of science, it’s a gift to the world. Here’s hoping there are more like him waiting to be known.”
- Dr. Katherine J Mack, astrophysicist at North Carolina State University: “Remembering Stephen Hawking makes me want to work harder on both my research AND my public engagement. I want to understand the Universe, and I want to share it with the world.”
- Katherine Mathieson, CEO of the British Science Association: “He was a true genius who had a great admiration of and connection to the public. … He simplified and explained, but without gimmicks. His assumption that people are curious about the universe and black holes was true. He inspired us all to wonder.”
- Robert Lightfoot, acting NASA administrator: “Along with groundbreaking and inspiring work came another attribute that made Stephen a hero not just to younger generations, but also to his peers. A longtime friend to NASA, Stephen was a passionate communicator who wanted to share the excitement of discovery with all.”
- Google CEO Sundar Pichai: “The world has lost a beautiful mind and a brilliant scientist.”
- Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak: “Stephen Hawking’s integrity and scientific dedication place him above pure brilliance.”
- Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “We lost a great one today. Stephen Hawking will be remembered for his incredible contributions to science – making complex theories and concepts more accessible to the masses. He’ll also be remembered for his spirit and unbounded pursuit to gain a complete understanding of the universe, despite the obstacles he faced. May he rest peacefully as his legacy and brilliance live on.”
- Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, on Twitter: “The world has lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit.”
- TV scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, on Twitter: “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.”
- US-Canadian theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, on Twitter: “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 something important about what it truly means to celebrate about being human. I will miss him.”
- Russian billionaire Yuri Milner of the Breakthrough Foundation: “When future historians consider who were outstanding people of our age, they will think of Professor Hawking. As both a scientist and human being, he was of the very highest stature.” Mr Milner was speaking to the BBC.
- Yangyang Cheng, a particle physicist at Cornell University, on Twitter: “As a little girl in China, over many years & countless days, I’d stare at the translated copy of ‘A Brief History of Time’ on father’s bookshelf, longing for the day I’d be able to read it. Thank you for gracing the world with your presence & continuing to illuminate if w/ your mind.”
- James Davenport, an astrophysics post-doctoral student at Western Washington University, on Twitter: “Sad to hear about Stephen Hawking’s passing. I probably watched ‘A Brief History of Time’ on VHS 100 times as a kid. One of my first memories of wanting to really understand science. Thank you, Prof. Hawking.”
- Robert McNees, a physics professor at Loyola University College: “I idolised Hawking when I was a kid. Once, when I was a post-doc, I got to hang out with him for an evening. Our group went for dinner and drinks, then karaoke. He was funny, lively, and kind. I called my parents at 3am to tell them. It was my ‘I made it’ moment.”
- Caltech physicist Sean Carroll, on Twitter: “Stephen Hawking was the rare famous scientist who deserved every bit of fame. A brilliant physicist and an inspirational person. And quite a character.”
- Actor Stephen McGann, on Twitter: “To anyone who lives in or near Cambridge, Stephen Hawking was a constant reminder of brilliance that wants to share the same air. You would come across him in the street – in cafes or shops. I last saw him at the next table in Carluccio’s. I’ll miss that. x”
- Cast of The Big Bang Theory, on which Stephen Hawking appeared as himself in several episodes, tweeted and posted a picture (below): “In loving memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him on The #BigBangTheory. Thank you for inspiring us and the world.”
Photo: Stephen Hawking with left-right: Melissa Rauch, Kunal Nayyar,
Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg and Mayim Bialik
- David J Peterson, writer The Game Of Thrones, The 100, on Twitter: “Saddened to hear about Stephen Hawking’s death. 😦 He was a brilliant person, but also had a good sense of humor. Loved seeing him pop on shows like Futurama and The Simpsons. Descanse en paz.”
- Jim Reed, BBC’s Newsnight, on Twitter: “Hawking story was doing rounds at Newsnight. Producer left in room setting up for interview. Pulled out lead for light and Hawkins slumped forward in chair like disconnected something vital. Producer runs for help, returns to room to find Hawking chuckling. #RIPStephenHawking.”
- NHS doctor Rachel Clarke, on Twitter: “The NHS is Britain’s finest public service and the cornerstone of our society. The NHS brings out the best in us. We cannot lose it. Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018.”
- Jeremy Hunt, British Health Secretary, who is in charge of the National Health Service (NHS) and more than once came into conflict with Stephen Hawking. Professor Hawking’s views on the NHS were well known. He once said: “The more profit is extracted from the system, the more private monopolies grow and the more expensive healthcare becomes. The NHS must be preserved from commercial interests and protected from those who want to privatise it.” Mr Hunt today said on Twitter: “Stephen Hawking was a defining force in the world of science whose loss will be felt in every corner of the globe. I was sad that we didn’t agree on everything, but he was still a hero to me as one of our greatest ever thinkers – he inspired with his courage as well as his words.”
- British astronaut Tim Peake: “Professor Hawking inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe.”
- Actor Eddie Redmayne (below right), who portrayed Professor Hawking in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything said: “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” Meanwhile, actor Bendedict Cumberbatch (below left) who played Hawking in a 2004 BBC drama, remembered his “wickedly funny sense of humour,” adding: “He virtually created the publishing game of popular science. I will miss our margaritas but will raise one to the stars to celebrate your life.”
- Astronomer Royal Lord Rees recalled a meeting with Hawking in 1964: “he was unsteady on his feet and speaking with great difficulty. 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. 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.”
- British Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at PMQ’s referenced Hawking’s “exceptional contributions to science and our knowledge of the universe speak for themselves. As his children have said, his courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.”
- British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Hawking “inspired the world with his determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos and showed breathtaking courage to overcome life’s adversities.”
- Former US President Barack Obama posted the photo below on Twitter and wrote: “Have fun out there among the stars.”
- Professor Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge: “Professor Hawking was a unique individual who will be remembered with warmth and affection not only in Cambridge but all over the world. He will be much missed.”
- Comedian Dara O’Briain, who also has a degree in mathematics and theoretical physics, said Hawking was a “hero of mine” and Tweeted: “I asked him once ‘How have you lived so long?’ And he said, ‘How can I die, when I have so much of the Universe left to explore?’”
- Motor Neurone Disease Association, on Twitter: “The @mndassoc is saddened to learn the death of Professor Stephen Hawking, Patron since 2008. Our thoughts are with Professor Hawking’s family. Throughout his inspirational life Professor Hawking played a vital role in raising awareness of motor neurone disease around the world.” The MND Association website crashed today when it was flooded with donations. The MND Association has always been important to my brother, whose best man died of the disease. In 2009 my brother did a 1000 mile bike ride from Land’s End in England to John O’Groats in Scotland.
STEPHEN HAWKING’S POLITICAL VIEWS
Here are some of his political views:
- BREXIT: campaigned in favour of remaining in the European Union (EU), arguing that leaving would be a disaster for science funding. He was saddened when the vote went in favour of leaving the EU and wrote an article for The Guardian warning against “envy and isolationism” and argued for a fairer share of wealth “both within nations and across national borders.” A few months later Prime Minister Theresa May presented him with a lifetime achievement award at the Pride Of Britain Awards. She said he was “a man who has quite simply changed the way we look at the world.” He joked when accepting the award: “Thank you prime minister for those very kind words. I deal with tough mathematical questions every day, but please don’t ask me to help with Brexit.” With his death, Stephen Hawking has not lived to experience the feared consequences of Brexit as we don’t leave the EU until March 2019.
- THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE (NHS): Stephen Hawking was a passionate supporter of the British health service, citing it for saving his life and keeping him alive for so long. He famously came to verbal blows with the current Conservative government Health Minister Jeremy Hunt only last year after Hunt accused Hawking of spreading “pernicious falsehoods” about the NHS. Professor Hawking responded in an article, again for The Guardian, in which he said the NHS was being destroyed by “underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay gap, the new contract imposed on junior doctors, and removal of student nurses’ bursary.”
- THE LABOUR PARTY: Unsurprisingly, Stephen Hawking is a supporter of the Labour Party, endorsing Labour’s candidate Daniel Zeichner in Cambridge at last June’s General Election in the UK. However he is not enthusiastic of the party’s current leader, left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. He said of Corbyn: “I regard him as a disaster. 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.”
- DONALD TRUMP: Asked to account for Tump’s popularity he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain in May 2016: “I can’t. He’s a demagogue, who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”
- ASSISTED DYING/SUICIDE: He supported the idea and supported a Bill by Lord Falconer in 2014 that called for doctors to be able to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients who have less than six months to live. The Bill failed. However, Professor Hawking said it would be “wrong to despir and commit suicide, unless one is in great pain, but that is a matter of choice. We should not take away the freedom of the individual to choose to die.” He also admitted that he had once attempted suicide after a tracheostomy to fit a breathing tube: “I briefly tried to commit suicide by not breathing. However, the reflex to breathe was too strong.”
- THE IRAQ WAR: Hawking, like many, believed “the war was based on two lies. It has been a tragedy for all the families. If that is not a war crime, what is?” He said this at an anti-war vigil in Trafalgar Square in London in 2004, where he also read out the names of Iraqi victims – the names of which he struggled to pronounce with his voice synthesiser which he explained wasn’t designed for Iraqi names.
- NUCLEAR WEAPONS/TRIDENT: Professor Hawking was one of many scientists, church leaders, actors and writers to urge then Prime Minister Tony Blair to cancel Trident – Britain’s submarine-based nuclear weapons system. He said: “Nuclear war remains the greatest danger to the survival of the human race. To replace Trident would make it more difficult to get arms reduction, and increase the risk. It would also be a complete waste of money because there are no circumstances in which we would use it independently.”
- ANIMAL TESTING: Unsurprisingly for someone suffering from a deadly disease, Professor Hawking supports animal testing in medical research: “The fuss over the use of animals in medical research is ridiculous. Why is it worse to use animal experiments to save lives than to eat them, which the majority of the population are happy to do? I suspect the extremists turn to animal rights from a lack of the more worthwhile causes of the past, like nuclear disarmament.” I couldn’t agree more with Stephen Hawking on this. As someone who lives with diabetes and kidney failure, and as a gay man who knows people living with HIV and who have died from the complications of HIV, it is essential that medical research is allowed to use animals to develop treatments and medicines. I very much doubt that those protesting the use of animals for such purposes will have so many qualms when they come to rely on medical intervention in later life and on the treatments and medicines developed using animal testing.
THINGS STEPHEN HAWKING SAID
- ON THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: “This complete set of laws can give us the answers to questions like how did the universe begin. Where is it going and will it have an end? If so, how will it end? If we find the answers to these questions, we really shall know the mind of God.” and “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
- ON WHY THE UNIVERSE EXISTS: “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”
- ON BLACK HOLES: “Einstein was wrong when he said ‘God does not play dice’. Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen.”
- ON HUMANITY: “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” and “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”
- ON LIFE: “One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
- ON COMMERCIAL SUCCESS: “I want my books sold on airport bookstalls.”
- ON LIVING WITH A DISABILITY: “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.” READ: Did Stephen Hawking change views on disability? (BBC)
- ON GOD: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” and “I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.”
- ON AN IMPERFECT WORLD: “Without imperfection, you and I would not exist.”
- ON STAYING CHEERFUL: “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”
- ON EUTHENASIA: “The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
- ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate… Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
- ON FAME: “The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognised. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.”
- ON THE POSSIBILITY OF CONTACT WITH ALIENS: “I think it would be a disaster. The extraterrestrials would probably be far in advance of us. The history of advanced races meeting more primitive people on this planet is not very happy, and they were the same species. I think we should keep our heads low.”
- ON SPACE COLONIES: “I don’t think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.”
- ON THE END OF THE UNIVERSE: “It will take about a thousand million million million million years for the Earth to run into the sun, so there’s no immediate cause for worry!.”
- ON BEING DIAGNOSED WITH MND: “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.”
- ON INTELLIGENCE: “People who boast about their IQ are losers.”
- ON 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.” and “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.”
STEPHEN HAWKING’S CULTURAL ADVENTURES
“I have been quite popular in my time. Some even read my books.” This was said by Stephen Hawking in his role on BBC radio’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: The Hexagonal Phase, which started on BBC Radio Four just last week. Hawking plays the voice of the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Mark II – a powerful being known on Earth as Professor Hawking. Stephen Hawking is also in this brief appearance joking about the fact that his book A Brief History Of Time is known as a multi-million selling book that many don’t actually read through to the end because of its complex narrative.
Stephen Hawking’s appearance in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is the last of dozens of appearances he has made on radio and television over the last few decades. Here are some of them (primary source: BBC)…
LITTLE BRITAIN FOR COMIC RELIEF
Prof Hawking had the mother of all wheelchair adaptations when it allowed him to become a transformer-type machine in a Little Britain sketch for Comic Relief. He’s seen being pushed through the grounds of a college at the University of Cambridge by Lou Todd – usually seen with wheelchair user Andy Pipkin. When Prof Hawking gets fed up with Lou’s patronising chat (about Peppa Pig, among other things), he says: “Professor Stephen Hawking bot, transform”. He turns into a Transformer-style robot and blasts Catherine Tate (playing an equally patronising nun) with a ray gun before chasing after Lou and turning the gun on him, before leaving the scene with a “ha ha ha”. The photo shows Stephen Hawking with David Walliams (Lou Todd) and Catherine Tate. Watch video on YouTube.
COMIC RELIEF ORIGINALS
The “renowned scientist and occasional sitcom star” is seen auditioning celebrities all hoping to provide his new voice in another clip for Comic Relief. Professor Hawking listens to pleas from stars including Liam Neeson, Rebel Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kylie Minogue as they all seek to persuade him to use their vocal talents. “No, not a chance” he tells Simon Cowell, before slightly swearily telling Gordon Ramsay: “I don’t think anyone would take me (beeped out) seriously if I sounded like that.” Star Wars’ John Boyega gets a slightly better reaction, with Professor Hawking saying: “Wowsers.” But he’s not the one to ultimately get the gig. You can see who that is in the video on YouTube.
THE BIG BANG THEORY
Sheldon gets to hand over his paper on the Higgs boson to his idol in the episode The Hawking Excitation – which has also seen Howard working on Professor Hawking’s wheelchair when he comes to their university to lecture. When Sheldon meets Professor Hawking, he tells him it’s an “honour and a privilege” to meet him – to which Professor Hawking replies: “I know.” He then goes on to tell Sheldon he’s made a mistake in one of his calculations, causing Sheldon to faint. “Great, another fainter,” he says. In another episode, The Extract Obliteration, he appears making a phone call to Sheldon – having played a game of Words With Friends online with him. He calls Sheldon “Dr Loser” instead of Dr Cooper and asks: “What does Sheldon Cooper and a black hole have in common? They both suck.” The photo shows Stephen Hawking with the cast and crew of The Big Bang Theory. You can watch a compilation video of Professor Hawking’s appearances in the show, and references to him, on YouTube.
MONTY PYTHON – THE MEANING OF LIVE (MOSTLY)
Professor Hawking pre-recorded a clip with Brian Cox for Monty Python‘s 2014 live reunion shows – in which he’s seen running over his fellow physicist as he’s explaining the expansion of the universe. “I think you’re being pedantic,” he tells Professor Cox as he knocks him over (well, or a stunt double does), before launching into a version of Monty Python‘s “The Galaxy Song.” The photo shows Brian Cox with Professor Hawking and you can watch the video on YouTube.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
In a season six episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Descent Part 1,” he appeared as a hologram playing cards with Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Data (the Enterprise’s android officer). When Sir Isaac pompously started to explain how he discovered gravity, Hawking protested: “Not the apple story again.” Off camera, as he was being shown the USS Enterprise’s warp drive, he reportedly quipped: “I’m working on that.” Stephen Hawking was the first guest start on the show to appear as himself and he is said to have written some of his own lines. His appearance on the show was so popular with cast members that many turned up on set to see him even though they had no scenes themselves that day. The photo shows Stephen Hawking with Jim Norton as Albert Einstein and John Neville as Sir Isaac Newton. You can watch the video on YouTube.
In TV animation Futurama, the perennially dim Phillip J Fry asked Professor Hawking: “Aren’t you that physicist that invented gravity?”. The scientist, playing himself, replied: “Sure. Why not?” He appeared in a total of three episodes of the animated series. He also appears in a clip for the Futurama: Worlds Of Tomorrow game which also features George Takai (Star Trek) and TV’s science guy Bill Nye and scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Watch other clips here and here.
Professor Hawking once commented that “almost as many people know me through The Simpsons as through my science”. Whether that’s true is debatable – but his stints on the long-running cartoon have been among his most memorable guest appearances. He first appeared in 1999 episode “They Saved Lisa’s Brain,” with his wheelchair loaded with gadgets. He not only knocks out Principal Skinner, using a boxing glove on a spring, but then flies off with the help of helicopter blades, saving Lisa Simpson from a collapsing bandstand in the process. He also tells Homer his doughnut-shaped universe theory is “intriguing” – and that he may steal it. “I hope I wouldn’t use the boxing glove – though sometimes I am sorely tempted,” he said. “But helicopter blades would be very useful.” His cartoon self came about as his daughter Lucy knew one of the scriptwriters. “The episode was very funny,” he added. Watch Stephen Hawking discussing his role on The Simpsons.
These are just a few of the many appearances Professor Hawking has made on television and radio. Others include Family Guy; an episode of Late Night With Conan O’Brian where he upstaged Jim Carrey, a comedy short with Paul Rudd and Keanu Reeves by Caltech University in which Rudd plays a game of Quantum Chess with Stephen Hawking; an interview with John Oliver for his Last Week Tonight show’s “Great Mind Series.” Stephen Hawking is also featured in a 1990s advert for British Telecom (BT) in which he extols the virtues of talking to one another. This inspired Pink Floyd who used his voice on their 1994 album “Division Bell” for the track “Keep Talking,” and again on the 2014 album “Endless River” track “Talkin’ Hawkin’. You can watch a WatchMojo video of the top ten Stephen Hawking moments in pop culture on YouTube.
UPDATE: Tuesday 20 March 2018 – Hawking to buried in Westminster Abbey
Stephen Hawking is to be buried in Westminster Abbey, the church in London in which many notable scientists, poets and others have been buried and in which all British monarchs have been crowned since William the Conqueror in 1066. Hawking will be laid to rest alongside scientific greats such as Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The Dean of Westminster, the Reverend Dr John Hall said: “It is entirely fitting… Sir Isaac Newton was buried in the Abbey in 1727. Charles Darwin was buried beside Isaac Newton in 1882. Other famous scientists are buried or memoralised nearby, the most recent burials being those of atomic physicists Ernest Rutherford in 1937 and Joseph John Thomson in 1940. We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek to answer the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”
Photos: Sir Isaac Newton’s memorial in the choir screen at the Abbey and the gravestone of Charles Darwin
Both Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Stephen Hawking held the position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. Newton held the post from 1669 to 1702 and Hawking from 1979 to 2009. Newton was appointed to the role just three years after his famously inferred the law of gravity by observing an apple in his orchard as he “sat in contemplative mood.” This almost certainly apocryphal story was the source of a joke made by Stephen Hawking when he made a guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was playing himself, in a poker game with among others Sir Isaac Newton. Newton is telling the “apple” story and Hawking interrupts him to say “not the apple story again.” Stephen Hawking thought that when he was given the position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, it was as a stopgap as nobody, including himself, expected him to live much longer as a result of his motor neurone disease. However, he held the position for three decades, almost as long as Isaac Newton held the position.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Stephen Hawking: Tributes pour in for ‘inspirational’ physicist – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- Stephen Hawking: Black holes, making science cool and being funny – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- BBC Trending: Stephen Hawking: Empty chairs, black holes and #PiDay – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by George Pierpoint, BBC UGC and Social News
- Stephen Hawking’s political views – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- The day I thought we’d unplugged Stephen Hawking – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Pallab Ghosh, Science Correspondent, BBC News
- Cambridge remembers: ‘I made some space for Stephen Hawking’ – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Helen Burchell and Phil Shepka
- Obituary: Stephen Hawking – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- Stephen Hawking’s cameos: ‘I have been quite popular in my time’ – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- Stephen Hawking: The science that made him famous – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- Hawking: Did he change views on disability? – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by James Gallagher, Health & Science Correspondent, BBC News
- Stephen Hawking dies: Scientist’s most memorable quotes – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- Science and tech community mourns Stephen Hawking – BBC – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- ‘I would not have survived’: Stephen Hawking lived long life thanks to NHS – The Guardian – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Ian Sample, Science Editor
- Cambridge colleagues pay tribute to ‘inspirational’ Hawking – The Guardian – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Sarah Marsh
- Hawking won the world’s respect – and gave disabled people like me hope – The Guardian – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Frances Ryan
- ‘Remember to look up at the stars’: the best Stephen Hawking quotes – The Guardian – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Michael McGowan
- ‘We still don’t have the technology to verify Stephen Hawking’s big ideas’ – The Guardian – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Maggie Aderin-Pocock
- I first met Stephen Hawking when we were students. His parties were legendary and he always insisted he wasn’t another Einstein – The Independent – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Martin Rees
- Stephen Hawking death: The equation the professor asked to be put on his tombstone – The Independent – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Andrew Griffin
- Stephen Hawking death: How did physicist live so long with motor neurone disease? – The Independent – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Alex Matthews-King
- Stephen Hawking death: The famed physicist’s best quotes – The Independent – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Jon Sharman
- Stephen Hawking death: Giant of theoretical physics who bridged the divide between science and popular culture – The Independent – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Steve Connor
- Stephen Hawking death: Physicist heralded as one of the greatest scientific minds ever dies aged 76 – The Independent – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Andrew Griffin and Chris Stevenson
- Stephen Hawking: ‘His laboratory was the universe’ – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Seth Bornstein/AP
- The world reacts to the death of physicist Stephen Hawking – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Associated Press
- Some of Stephen Hawking’s publications – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Associated Press
- Eight great Stephen Hawking quotes on school, intelligence, aliens, goldfish and more – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Valerie Strauss
- VIDEO: World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking dies at 76 – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Amber Ferguson
- Stephen Hawking, physicist who came to symbolize the power of the human mind, dies at 76 – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Joel Achenbach and Boyce Rensberger
- Stephen Hawking’s secret to surviving his terrible condition? A sense of humor. – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Kyle Swanson
- A timeline of noted physicist Stephen Hawking’s life – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Associated Press
- VIDEO: Stephen Hawking’s most memorable statements – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Zhiyan Zong and Monica Akhtar
- ‘May you keep flying like superman in microgravity’: Tributes from around the globe pour in for Stephen Hawking – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Karia Adam
- Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking dies at 76 – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018
- ‘I’m not afraid:’ What Stephen Hawking said about God, his atheism and his own death – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Lori Johnston
- “In my mind I am free”: Notable quotes from Stephen Hawking – Washington Post – Wednesday 14 March 2018 – by Associated Press
- Professor Stephen Hawking will be buried at Westminster Abbey – Metro – Tuesday 20 March 2018 – Joe Roberts
- From Newton to Hawking and beyond: a short history of the Lucasian Chair – The Conversation –