Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Author of A Brief History of Time, Theoretical Physicist
Currently Known For:
Author of A Brief History of Time, Theoretical Physicist
“Where did the universe come from?” One of the greatest scientists of his generation, Stephen Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who spent his life pursuing answers to some of science’s greatest questions. Throughout his lifetime, he achieved commercial success with his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, and pushed scientific advancement on topics like general relativity, black holes, and quantum mechanics. He also defied the odds and fought Lou Gehrig’s disease throughout his adult life and until his death on March 14, 2018 at 76 years old, proving that even his loss of mobility and speech couldn’t stop him from achieving greatness and further impacting the world of scientific thought.
Born into a family of eccentric scholars on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England, Stephen William Hawking showed early signs of brilliance but that didn’t easily translate into academic success since he had little interest in school work and, instead, spent most of his time focusing on his favorite topics—science and mathematics. His father worried that Hawking wouldn’t find a stable career as a mathematics major and encouraged his son to pursue a medical degree from his alma mater, University College, Oxford. To please his father, the 17-year-old Hawking enrolled at the college but refused to study medicine and, instead, pursued degrees in physics and chemistry; however, he was bored with the academic demands and lonely with very few friends.
Deciding to make a change, Hawking’s sophomore, junior, and seniors years looked vastly different as he joined the University College Boat Club and became one of the most popular students on campus. He continued his studies but, despite his brilliance, he was considered a lazy and difficult student. This caused him great concern at graduation when he feared he wouldn’t receive his degree. “If you award me a First, I will go to Cambridge. If I receive a Second, I shall stay in Oxford, so I expect you will give me a First,” he told the college board during his oral examinations. Awarded a First, he was granted acceptance into the University of Cambridge where his life drastically changed.
“It was a great shock to be diagnosed with an incurable condition. Why should this happen to me? It wasn’t fair.” During graduate school, Hawking experienced occasional weakness and falling spells, but he didn’t think anything of it until his symptoms progressed and threatened his future. In 1963, just weeks after his 21st birthday, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and given less than three years to live. Initially, Hawking fell into a deep depression but saw his symptoms stabilize, which gave him hope and reignited his desire to fight. “He was very depressed, but I think he is a fighter,” his mother Isabel once said. “I think that aspect came up pretty quickly. He’s been fighting ever since.”
Hawking slowly lost control of his muscles but his mind continued to run wild with ideas and questions he dreamed of solving. “When you are faced with the possibility of an early death, it makes you realize that life is worth living and that there are a lot of things you want to do,” Hawking said. Instead of giving into his disease, he fought to answer some of his biggest questions. “I have wanted to know how the universe operates and why,” he said. “Above all, I have been interested in the big bang and black holes. They are where the universe came from and is going to, the beginning and the end of time.”
Eventually confined to a wheelchair and relying on a speech-generating device to communicate, Hawking continued to pursue his scientific questions and saw his book, A Brief History of Time, become a record-breaking best seller after topping the British Sunday Times best-seller list for 237 weeks. He collaborated with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems, studied black holes, and perfected the idea of Hawking radiation. He was the first to identify a theory of cosmology that explained and combined the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Needless to say, his brilliance was endless as he shared insight into his theorems and passions with students at the University of Cambridge where he was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1979 to 2009 and then as the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.
For Hawking, there was little to life outside of science, but he admitted that his love for author and teacher Jane Wilde gave him something to live for as he fought his disease. Married in July 1965, Wilde completed her degree in London and then traveled around the world with Hawking to various physics-related conventions and events. They eventually settled down as Wilde started her PhD program and welcomed their son, Robert, into the world in May 1967. Three years later, she gave birth to daughter, Lucy, followed by their youngest son, Timothy, in April 1979.
Although Hawking refused to discuss his illness and physical challenges with Wilde, the progression of his disease was apparent and led Wilde to bring in a graduate student to help with her husband’s care. This helped for a few years, but Hawking’s growing fame and the resulting pressures caused great strain in their marriage and ultimately led to their separation as Hawking fell in love with one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, and announced his plans to divorce Wilde and marry Mason. On the heels of their divorce in 1995, Hawking married Mason in September 1995 and told the world, “It’s wonderful—I have married the woman I love.”
Hawking’s fairytale with Mason was short-lived and, as he excluded his family and friends, many who were closest to him wondered if he was being physically abused. Hawking denied the claims but quietly filed for divorce in 2006 and worked diligently to rebuild his relationships with his children, grandchildren, and even with Wilde. This was a much happier time for Hawking who happily turned his attention to television and film with credits in Hawking, Horizon: The Hawking Paradox, Masters of Science Fiction, and Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking.
In 2012, he made his sitcom debut on primetime television as himself in The Big Bang Theory in an episode titled, “The Hawking Excitation.” During the episode, Hawking is scheduled to lecture at Caltech where Howard is hired to maintain his wheelchair equipment. Sheldon is beside himself with excitement and completes a long list of humiliating tasks for the chance to meet his idol, which happens in the final scene of the episode when Hawking makes his highly anticipated debut.
With over 13.29 million viewers tuning in to see the famed cosmologist on primetime television, Hawking’s appearance on the popular series was so well-received that he returned for multiple episodes including “The Extract Obliteration,” “The Relationship Diremption,” “The Troll Manifestation,” “The Celebration Experimentation,” “The Geology Elevation,” and “The Proposal Proposal” in 2014, 2015, and 2017. Sadly, Hawking’s 2017 appearance on The Big Bang Theory marked his last television appearance.Hawking’s Legacy
After battling Lou Gehrig’s disease for five decades and defying every odd, Hawking died peacefully in his Cambridge home surrounded by family and friends on March 14, 2018 at 76 years old. Coincidentally, he was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death and took his last breath on the 139th anniversary of Einstein’s birth, which seems fitting for one of the greatest thinkers of his generation. Following his death and cremation, a private funeral took place on March 31, 2018 with a celebration scheduled for June 2018 at Westminster Abbey where his legacy and contributions to science will be honored by attendees from around the world. Afterward, his ashes will be interred next to the graves of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.