Stephen Hawking dies; brilliant physicist defied ALS for more than 50 years

In this 2012 file photo, professor Stephen Hawking poses beside a lamp titled 'black hole light' by inventor Mark Champkins, presented to him during his visit to the Science Museum in London. Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, died early Wednesday, March 14, 2018, a University of Cambridge spokesman said. He was 76. | Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA via Associated Press, St. George News

PARIS (AP) — In his final years, the only thing connecting the brilliant physicist to the outside world was a couple of inches of frayed nerve in his cheek.

In this Aug. 12, 2009, file photo President Barack Obama applauds after presenting the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Stephen Hawking, the renown theoretical physicist and Cambridge University professor, during ceremonies at the White House in Washington. Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, has died, a family spokesman said early Wednesday, March 14, 2018. | Associated Press photo by J. Scott Applewhite, St. George News

As slowly as a word per minute, Stephen Hawking used the twitching of the muscle under his right eye to grind out his thoughts on a custom-built computer, painstakingly outlining his vision of time, the universe and humanity’s place within it.

What he produced was a masterwork of popular science, one that guided a generation of enthusiasts through the esoteric world of anti-particles, quarks and quantum theory. His success in turn transformed him into a massively popular scientist, one as familiar to the wider world through his appearances on prime time television shows as his work on cosmology and black holes.

Hawking owed one part of his fame to his triumph over amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative disease that eats away at the nervous system. When he was diagnosed at 21 years old, he was given only a few years to live.

But Hawking defied the normally fatal illness for more than 50 years, pursuing a brilliant career that stunned doctors and thrilled his fans. Even though a severe attack of pneumonia left him breathing through a tube, an electronic voice synthesizer allowed him to continue speaking, albeit in a robotic monotone that became one of his trademarks.

He carried on working into his 70s, spinning theories, teaching students and writing “A Brief History of Time,” an accessible exploration of the mechanics of the universe that sold millions of copies.

By the time he died Wednesday at 76, Hawking was among the most recognizable faces in science, on par with Albert Einstein.

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

In this March 1989 file photo British astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, 47, answers newsmen with the help of his computer and the assistance of his then-wife, Jane, in Paris. Hawking, who has a motor neuron disease communicates with the help of a voice-equipped computer. Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, has died, a family spokesman said early Wednesday, March 14, 2018. | Associated Press photo by Lionel Cironneau, St. George News

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 sequel, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” which updated readers on concepts like supergravity, 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 in 1991. “I don’t know an operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a meaning. But it bothers me.”

Hawking often credited humor with helping him deal with his disability, and it was his sense of mischief that made him game for a series of stunts.

He made cameo television appearances in “The Simpsons,” ”Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and the “The Big Bang Theory” 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 Hawking. The film focused still more attention on Hawking’s remarkable life.

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

His achievements, and his longevity, also helped prove to many that even the most severe disabilities need not stop patients from achieving.

In this May 15, 2008, file photo former South African President Nelson Mandela, right, meets with British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking, left, in Johannesburg. Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralyzed by disease, has died, a family spokesman said early Wednesday, March 14, 2018 | Associated Press photo by Denis Farrell, St. George News

Richard Green, of the Motor Neurone Disease Association – the British name for ALS – said Hawking met the classic definition of the disease, as “the perfect mind trapped in an imperfect body.” He said Hawking had been an inspiration to people with the disease for many years.

Hawking’s disability did slow the pace of conversation, especially in later years as even the muscles in his face started to weaken. Minutes could pass as he composed answers to even simple questions. Hawking said that didn’t impair his work, even telling one interviewer it gave his mind time to drift as the conversation ebbed and flowed around him.

His near-total paralysis certainly did little to dampen his ambition to physically experience space: Hawking savored small bursts of weightlessness in 2007 when he was flown aboard a jet that made repeated dives to simulate zero-gravity.

Hawking had hoped to leave Earth’s atmosphere altogether someday, a trip he often recommended to the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.

In the long run the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet,” Hawking said in 2008. “I just hope we can avoid dropping the basket until then.”

Hawking first earned prominence for his theoretical work on black holes. Disproving the belief that black holes are so dense that nothing could escape their gravitational pull, he showed that black holes leak a tiny bit of light and other types of radiation, now known as “Hawking radiation.”

“It came as a complete surprise,” said Gary Horowitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It really was quite revolutionary.”

Horowitz said the find helped move scientists one step closer to cracking the unified theory.

Hawking’s other major scientific contribution was to cosmology, the study of the universe’s origin and evolution. Working with Jim Hartle of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hawking proposed in 1983 that space and time might have no beginning and no end.

“Asking what happens before the Big Bang is like asking for a point one mile north of the North Pole,” he said.

In 2004, he announced that he had revised his previous view that objects sucked into black holes simply disappeared, perhaps to enter an alternate universe. Instead, he said he believed objects could be spit out of black holes in a mangled form.

That new theory capped his three-decade struggle to explain a paradox in scientific thinking: How can objects really “disappear” inside a black hole and leave no trace when subatomic theory says matter can be transformed but never fully destroyed?

Hawking was born Jan. 8, 1942, in Oxford, and grew up in London and St. Albans, northwest of the capital. In 1959, he entered Oxford University and then went on to graduate work at Cambridge.

Signs of illness appeared in his first year of graduate school, and he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankee star who died of it. The disease usually kills within three to five years.

According to John Boslough, author of “Stephen Hawking’s Universe,” Hawking became deeply depressed. But as it became apparent that he was not going to die soon, his spirits recovered and he bore down on his work. Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said only 5 percent of those diagnosed with ALS survive for 10 years or longer. Hawking, he added, “really is at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to survival.”

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965 and they had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy.

Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years, until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.

He was inducted into the Royal Society in 1974 and received the Albert Einstein Award in 1978. In 1989, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Companion of Honor, one of the highest distinctions she can bestow.

He whizzed about Cambridge at surprising speed – usually with nurses or teaching assistants in his wake – traveled and lectured widely, and appeared to enjoy his fame. He retired from his chair as Lucasian Professor in 2009 and took up a research position with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

Hawking divorced Jane Wilde in 1991, an acrimonious split that strained his relationship with their children. Writing in her autobiographical “Music to Move the Stars,” she said the strain of caring for Hawking for nearly three decades had left her feeling like “a brittle, empty shell.” Hawking married his one-time nurse Elaine Mason four years later, but the relationship was dogged by rumors of abuse.

Police investigated in 2004 after newspapers reported that he’d been beaten, suffering injuries including a broken wrist, gashes to the face and a cut lip, and was left stranded in his garden on the hottest day of the year.

Hawking called the charges “completely false.” Police found no evidence of any abuse. Hawking and Mason separated in 2006.

Lucy Hawking said her father had an exasperating “inability to accept that there is anything he cannot do.”

“I accept that there are some things I can’t do,” he told The Associated Press in 1997. “But they are mostly things I don’t particularly want to do anyway.”

Then, grinning widely, he added, “I seem to manage to do anything that I really want.”

Written by RAPHAEL SATTER, Associated Press

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • ScanMeister March 14, 2018 at 9:16 am

    He knows now how the beginning began…….In Beginning God……

    • theone March 14, 2018 at 10:08 am

      ScanMeister you say that with such conviction. I would like to know how you’re so sure of this,
      and the evidence that backs your claim up.
      Thanks, I’ll just wait right here for your response.

      • No Filter March 14, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        Faith in god is all they need as proof! That’s how they get away with not having proof is by saying they have faith. Faith = Truth, science = fake news. If you get the evidence from scanmeister, please share with the world…lol

        • theone March 14, 2018 at 2:17 pm

          LOL If he does he’ll be the most famous person ever to walk on Earth.

          • Jerome March 14, 2018 at 4:39 pm

            Since you like to challenge others, I have an easy challenge for you. Prove to me that ScanMeister does not know there is a God. I’ll just be here waiting for the proof. Please use the same standards of proof that you require of ScanMeister. Then you will be the most famous person ever to walk the Earth.

          • theone March 15, 2018 at 9:49 am

            Yup, just as expected, none of you have evidence for your claim. Typical maneuver from believers when all I get is the duck and dodge method by asserting I have to prove you don’t have a god. I didn’t make a positive claim so I have nothing to prove, the claim came from the believer making them responsible for proving their claim to be true.
            I’ll wait here for your proof, I mean attack on me because you have no evidence. Keep in mind in order for something to be true it has to align with reality.
            Annnnnnd go

          • Jerome March 15, 2018 at 11:40 am

            Yep, just as I suspected, you once again dodge the challenge. Typical maneuver from you is to duck and dodge by asserting I, or others have to prove a God exists. IF you would really read my post, I did not make a claim whatsoever, so I have nothing to prove. I did not attack you, I simply extended a challenge for you, like you extended one to the believer. Who’s the one ducking and running now?

            You do have two claims from your last post that you need to back up. 1- Where was the attack on you from my post? 2-“for something to be true, it has to align with reality?” (This should be a good one for you to prove considering we have not established who’s reality is the standard, but I’m guessing you’ll just use yours as the standard for all humans. Then of course you’ll have to prove that reality is not subject to perception.)

            Well, I’ll just wait right here for your proof. Annnd go…….

            Its this just fun?

          • theone March 15, 2018 at 1:16 pm

            Actually, this is not a challenge, the believer made an assertion as though it were fact and I asked for the evidence. I have no need to disprove their belief since I didn’t make a positive claim. You seem to think reality is in one’s own perception, the truth is reality is not a perception, it is of one fact that reality doesn’t change to meet your own perception of truth. Now the reality one carries in their imagination is suitable for one’s own perception, but it’s not a reality that exists outside of your own thoughts. Maybe attack was a bit of a reach, but your challenge is moot. Believers claim their god is real so they need to provide the evidence to back their claim. Scanmeister claims he knows Hawkings now knows the beginnings, that now requires him to provide the evidence to make it align with reality and not his own reality. I don’t believe the claim of a god or any god is true leaving me with nothing to prove, only those who assert that claim are obligated to provide their evidence.

          • ladybugavenger March 15, 2018 at 2:23 pm

            You know how I know there’s a God? Cuz I should be dead and here I am, sometimes against my will, still alive!

            Gotta love the twists and turns, the good, the bad, and that what I think I want, God sees different….let go let God.

            Loves to you theone! ❤❤❤ have a blessed day!

          • No Filter March 15, 2018 at 2:59 pm

            If Morgan Freeman can’t prove there’s a god then no one can. #thestoryofGodwithMorganFreeman

          • theone March 15, 2018 at 3:38 pm

            I always have a hug for you bug!

          • Jerome March 15, 2018 at 3:54 pm

            Its good to see you back up a little and think about this a little bit. That was my entire point in this conversation. This is an argument that has been around for, well who knows how long. I do not believe for a minute that your mind will ever change on the subject no matter what was presented to you. There is no “obligation” for anyone to prove anything. If you think there is, then by what authority do you speak, and to whom are any of us obligated? You can want it all you want, but still, there is no “obligation”; for you, or ScanMeister, or me to prove anything. I absolutely respect your ideas, and if you look carefully I even gave you the opportunity to show me your point of view. Questions aren’t always meant to imply criticism, but are often used as a tool to understand another’s opinion. I gave you the chance to show me your point of view, but you chose not to pursue it.

            I agree with you about truth and reality, which is what puzzles me about your thoughts about God. If there is even one individual in the history of time who has a claim to have witnessed God, then how do you come to determine if that is a reality? (another question) Then if say, there were thousands who claim to have witnessed that same God in person, then how do you determine that is not a reality? (Teaching moment) There are records of people who make this claim, yet you have dismissed all of them. Every single one of them, as if it were the reality you claim to hold so dear. You would have to have an infinite knowledge of the not only our universe, but all of the cosmos to know that. Then you would have to search all of it just to make sure.

            In order to have a absolute reality, there needs to be a absolute source of that truth and knowledge (the check figure). Where is that absolute source of truth for you? Without it there will always be perception intertwined. How’s that you ask? Well everyday we as humans are learning something new changing our understanding of reality. I’m open to it, are you?

          • theone March 15, 2018 at 5:20 pm

            Jerome, I have to take leave for the evening so look for my response tomorrow.
            I do find your opinion to be of value, but I find some of the regular special pleadings.
            Wish I had time to respond today.

          • Jerome March 15, 2018 at 7:17 pm

            Nah. Don’t bother.

      • Kyle L. March 14, 2018 at 9:48 pm

        Can you please explain to me the scientific process that it takes for blood to clot? After you have researched it please explain to me how it was possible to evolve. Thank You.

      • ScanMeister March 15, 2018 at 6:40 am

        History foretold in advance

  • theone March 14, 2018 at 10:11 am

    What a tremendous loss to humanity. His contributions to understanding the Universe will continue to impact our research of the Cosmos for generations.

    • Kyle L. March 14, 2018 at 9:49 pm

      So fitting that your name is not capitalized.

      • theone March 15, 2018 at 9:53 am

        I agree because when you’re theone you’re so awesome there is no need to capitalize my awesomeness.

        • Kyle L. March 15, 2018 at 3:52 pm


        • comments March 15, 2018 at 4:18 pm

          spoken like a truly self-deluded, narcissistic female


          • theone March 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm

            I think prophet bob has a crush on me in hopes I really am a female.
            If we were to go on a date, would you like me to shave my beard off?

  • comments March 14, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    We won’t get any more of his far out, kooky, nutty theories of outer space and black holes and what not? From what I’ve read the guy was more of a loon than a genius, with so many of his speculation being wrong. I’m not sure how he became so revered.

    • Death Valley March 14, 2018 at 4:40 pm

      You are, without a doubt, the single most classless person to post on this website daily.
      Not even worthy to clean out Hawking’s colostomy bag. Karma, not looking so good for you.

      • ladybugavenger March 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm


        “atheist” Bob, you’ve got a friend in me ?

        • comments March 14, 2018 at 7:35 pm

          aww, thx LB 😉 . It’s ironic, because he calls me classless, but then just read what he wrote—tsk, tsk

    • Striker4 March 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

      and another ignorant hateful disgusting bigoted blow hard pile of garbage from the Mormon Prophet Bob

      • Jerome March 15, 2018 at 12:38 pm

        ….and your comment was not hateful? I rarely agree with comments, but in context yours is far more hateful. Maybe you weren’t trying to hold the high road. “blow hard” vs “far out”, “pile of garbage” vs “nutty”. ?????

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