A symbol of mind’s power
Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist who overcame a devastating neurological disease to probe the greatest mysteries of the cosmos and become a globally celebrated symbol of the power of the human mind, has died, a family spokesman told The Associated Press. He was 76.
Unable to move a muscle, speechless but for a computer-synthesized voice, Hawking had suffered since the age of 21 from a degenerative motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Initially given two years to live, a diagnosis that threw him into a profound depression, he found the strength to complete his doctorate.
Hawking eventually became one of the planet’s most renowned science popularizers, and he embraced the attention.
“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.” He spent much of his career searching for a way to reconcile Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum physics and produce a “Theory of Everything.”
He wrote an international bestseller, A Brief History of Time, which delved into the origin and ultimate fate of the universe. He deliberately set out to write a mass-market primer on an often incomprehensible subject.
Although the book was sometimes derided as being dense, and had a reputation for being owned more than read, it sold millions of copies, was translated into more than 20 languages, and inspired a mini-empire of similar books from Hawking.
With his daughter, Lucy, he wrote a series of children’s books about a young intergalactic traveller named George. His blunt 2013 memoir, My Brief History, explored his development in science as well as his turbulent marriages.
With the aid of a voice synthesizer, controlled by his fingers on a keyboard, he gave speeches around the world, from Chile to China.
His scientific achievements included breakthroughs in understanding the extreme conditions of black holes, objects so dense that not even light can escape their gravity.