Physi­cist known for bril­liance, re­silience

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - Robert Barr, The As­so­ci­ated Press

LON­DON — Stephen Hawk­ing, whose bril­liant mind ranged across time and space though his body was par­a­lyzed by dis­ease, has died, a fam­ily spokesman said early Wed­nes­day. He was 76.

“He was a great sci­en­tist and an ex­tra­or­di­nary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” his chil­dren Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a state­ment.

The best-known the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist of his time, Hawk­ing wrote so lu­cidly of the mys­ter­ies of space, time and black holes that his book A Brief His­tory of Time be­came an in­ter­na­tional best-seller, mak­ing him one of science’s big­gest celebri­ties since Al­bert Ein­stein.

Even though his body was at­tacked by amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis, or ALS, when Hawk­ing was 21, he stunned doc­tors by liv­ing with the nor­mally fa­tal ill­ness for more than 50 years. A se­vere at­tack of pneu­mo­nia in 1985 left him breath­ing through a tube, forc­ing him to communicate through an elec­tronic voice syn­the­sizer that gave him his dis­tinc­tive ro­botic mono­tone.

But he con­tin­ued his sci­en­tific work, ap­peared on tele­vi­sion and mar­ried for a sec­ond time.

As one of Isaac New­ton’s suc­ces­sors as Lu­casian Pro­fes­sor of Math­e­mat­ics at Cam­bridge Univer­sity, Hawk­ing was in­volved in the search for the great goal of physics — a “uni­fied the­ory.”

Such a the­ory would re­solve the con­tra­dic­tions be­tween Ein­stein’s Gen­eral The­ory of Rel­a­tiv­ity, which de­scribes the laws of grav­ity that gov­ern the mo­tion of large ob­jects like plan­ets, and the The­ory of Quan­tum Me­chan­ics, which deals with the world of sub­atomic par­ti­cles.

For Hawk­ing, the search was al­most a re­li­gious quest — he said find­ing a “the­ory of every­thing” would al­low mankind to “know the mind of God.”

“A com­plete, con­sis­tent uni­fied the­ory is only the first step: Our goal is a com­plete un­der­stand­ing of the events around us, and of our own ex­is­tence,” he wrote in A Brief His­tory of Time.

In later years, though, he sug­gested a uni­fied the­ory might not ex­ist.

He fol­lowed up A Brief His­tory of Time in 2001 with the more ac­ces­si­ble se­quel The Universe in a Nut­shell, up­dat­ing read­ers on con­cepts like su­per grav­ity, naked sin­gu­lar­i­ties and the pos­si­bil­ity of an 11-di­men­sional universe.

Hawk­ing said be­lief in a God who in­ter­venes in the universe “to make sure the good guys win or get re­warded in the next life” was wish­ful think­ing.

“But one can’t help ask­ing the ques­tion: Why does the universe ex­ist?” he said in1991. “I don’t know an op­er­a­tional way to give the ques­tion or the an­swer, if there is one, a mean­ing. But it both­ers me.”

The com­bi­na­tion of his best-sell­ing book and his al­most to­tal dis­abil­ity — for a while he could use a few fingers, later he could only tighten the mus­cles on his face — made him one of science’s most rec­og­niz­able faces.

He made cameo TV ap­pear­ances in The Big Bang The­ory, The Simp­sons and Star Trek and counted among his fans U2 guitarist the Edge, who at­tended a Jan­uary 2002 cel­e­bra­tion of Hawk­ing’s 60th birth­day.

His early life was chron­i­cled in the 2014 film The The­ory of Every­thing, with Ed­die Red­mayne win­ning the best ac­tor Academy Award for his por­trayal of the sci­en­tist.

Some col­leagues cred­ited that celebrity with gen­er­at­ing new en­thu­si­asm for science.

Bruno Vin­cent/getty Im­ages

Stephen Hawk­ing made cameo TV ap­pear­ances in The Big Bang The­ory, The Simp­sons and Star Trek,

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