Even though I generally can't understand anything about physics, gravity, black holes and all the other challenging subjects physicist Stephen Hawking studied, I've always read everything I came across about him and somehow, even though he had lived with Lou Gehrig's Disease all his adult life, it never occurred to me that he could die.
So I was shocked earlier this week to see the headline that he had died in his home in Cambridge, England, at age 76. Hawking was our generation's Einstein, the loveable genius who had miraculously survived beyond age 24 that doctors had given him, and who made physics sexy.
Leonard Mlodinow, writing in The New York Times following Hawking's death put the same idea more clearly than I did:
”In popular culture Stephen was another kind of miracle: a floating brain, a disembodied intellect that fit snugly into the stereotype of the genius scientist.”
He was/still is one of my top favorite celebrities.
I read his first book, A Brief History of Time when it was published in 1988, and a few years later, The Universe in a Nutshell, believing – at least while I was reading them – that I actually understood. Yeah. Right.
The Guardian published a few of the many accolades from people who knew, loved or admired Hawking:
“'Stephen was far from being the archetypal unworldy or nerdish scientist. His personality remained amazingly unwarped by his frustrations,' said Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, who praised Hawking’s half century of work as an 'inspiring crescendo of achievement.' He added: 'Few, if any, of Einstein’s successors have done more to deepen our insights into gravity, space and time.'”
”Hawking’s children said: 'We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. 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 humour 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 for ever.'”
”The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield lamented on Twitter that 'Genius is so fine and rare', while Theresa May noted Hawking’s 'courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration.' The US rock band Foo Fighters was more succinct, calling Hawking a 'fucking legend.'”
In 2014, John Oliver interviewed Hawking for his HBO program, Last Week Tonight. The encounter was priceless then, moreso now:
Actor Eddie Redmayne played Hawking in the film, The Theory of Everything. If you haven't seen it, you should track it down. Redmayne won the best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Hawking.
Here are just a very few of the many accolades and tributes and memories of Hawking from around the web:
A brief bio from the University of Cambridge, where he worked
And here is a video of 10 memorable quotations from Professor Hawking. The Youtube page is correct: “Some are funny, others are thought-provoking, but all are incredibly wise.”
The world lost one of the greatest men of our generation this week. I feel blessed to have “known” him, even at a great distance.