Stephen Hawking, legendary physicist, dies at 76, family says

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s foremost theoretical physicists, has died at age 76. On the cover of the Oxford Dictionary of Scientists, Hawking appeared with Einstein and Madame Curie, an apt demonstration of his renown.

For decades, Hawking was confined to a wheelchair by a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a neurological disease that handcuffs movement. He communicated via a speech synthesizer. A cause of death was not immediately available. His family announced his death via statement early Wednesday.

Hawking was best known as the author of A Brief History of Time, the best-selling 1988 book that first brought modern astrophysics into popular understanding for many and made him into an icon. His comments on black holes and other physics phenomena were regularly noted in newspapers. The fact that The Simpsons featured him in one of its cartoon episodes showed his reach into popular culture. He was also featured in Big Bang Theory, as a hero to the show’s main character, theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper.

Born in Oxford, England, Hawking graduated from Oxford University and later Cambridge University, taking the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics position there in 1979, a position once held by Isaac Newton. He is survived by his three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy, children of his first marriage. Hawking’s second marriage, to Jane Hawking, ended in 2006, a subject of tabloid news stories.

Despite his physical ailments, he was known for a direct and dry wit, often combining the marvelous and mundane in his observations. “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star,” he told Der Spiegel in 1989. “But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.”

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