Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose mental genius and physical disability made him a household name and inspiration across the globe, has died at age 76, his family said Wednesday.
Hawking, whose 1988 book “A Brief History of Time” became an unlikely worldwide bestseller and cemented his superstar status, dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of the Universe.
His genius and wit won over fans from far beyond the rarified world of astrophysics.
He died peacefully at his home in the British university city of Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” professor Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim said in a statement carried by Britain’s Press Association news agency.
“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”
Hawking defied predictions he would only live for a few years after developing a form of motor neurone disease in 1964 at the age of 22.
The illness gradually robbed him of mobility, leaving him confined to a wheelchair, almost completely paralysed and unable to speak except through his trademark voice synthesiser.
“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world,” the family 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.”
Stephen Hawking: a brief history of genius
Born on January 8, 1942 — 300 years to the day after the death of the father of modern science, Galileo Galilei — he believed science was his destiny.
But fate also dealt Hawking a cruel hand.
Most of his life was spent in a wheelchair crippled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease that attacks the nerves controlling voluntary movement.
Remarkably, Hawking defied predictions he would only live for a few years, overcoming its debilitating effects on his mobility and speech that left him paralysed and able to communicate only via a computer speech synthesiser.
“I am quite often asked: how do you feel about having ALS?” he once wrote. “The answer is, not a lot.
“I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many.”
Stephen William Hawking, though, was far from normal.
Inside the shell of his increasingly useless body was a razor-sharp mind, fascinated by the nature of the Universe, how it was formed and how it might end.
“My goal is simple,” he once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
Much of that work centred on bringing together relativity — the nature of space and time — and quantum theory — how the smallest particles in the Universe behave — to explain the creation of the Universe and how it is governed.