Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist who beat the odds his entire life, has died. He was 76.
Hawking was as famous for his insights on black holes, the existence of God and quantum gravity as he was for his unique way of speaking while living his life in a wheelchair. Operating his trademark computer system with his cheek, Hawking gave the world insights into the unknown and gems of quotations, including, “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”
Hawking died peacefully in the early morning of March 14—a day science fans are celebrating as Pi Day—at the age of 76. In a statement, his children Lucy, Robert, and Tim said:
“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”
Hawking was a mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge and held 13 honorary degrees. In 2009, then-US president Barack Obama awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded in America. In his speech, Obama said: “From his wheelchair, he has led us on a journey to the farthest and strangest reaches of the cosmos. In so doing, he has stirred our imagination and showed us the power of the human spirit.”
In addition to his scientific work, Hawking had become something of a pop-culture icon with cameos in shows, including The Simpsons, Star Trek, and The Big Bang Theory, in part because of his use of a wheelchair and computerized voice system. Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a form of motor neuron disease, shortly after his 21st birthday in 1963 and was told he had two years to live.
Hawking went on to complete his Ph.D at the University of Cambridge, which last year made his thesis available publicly. Though he faced challenges, he once said in a Q&A: “The human race is so puny compared to the universe that being disabled is not of much cosmic significance.”
He died before fulfilling one of his greatest dreams: to travel to space.