PROFESSOR STEPHEN HAWKING, recognised as perhaps the single greatest physicist since Albert Einstein, has died aged 76.
Hawking was already recognised as a tour-de-force in academic circles but came to the public attention during the 80s when his book "A Brief History of Time" became a multi-million selling must-have entry on any bookshelf, remaining in the Sunday Times bestseller list for a record 237 weeks.
As he himself later admitted, there was a certain gulf between the number of copies sold and the number of copies read, because while it was a pioneering work in explaining quantum physics to a mass audience, it wasn't exactly Jilly Cooper.
Whilst continuing his work in unlocking the mysteries of the universe, Hawking was catapulted to a celebrity status, thanks not only to his brilliant mind but his unique appearance and computer-generated voice that made him instantly recognisable.
As a result, not only did he become a regular fixture on the lecture circuit and as a voice of academia, but his often wicked sense of humour lent itself to cameo appearances on TV and radio shows including the Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and most recently as the voice of The Guide Mark II in a new instalment of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on BBC Radio Four.
More recently, his outspoken views on the dangers of artificial intelligence and contacting aliens have been brought to the fore in the tech industry, whilst his hook up with Microsoft, Intel, and Swiftkey, which allowed him to continue to articulate in his later years via a single cheek muscle, became a beacon of what new technology could do for everyone who struggled with a keyboard and mouse.
It's worth pointing out that we are several hundred words into this obituary without mentioning the Motor Neurone Disease which left him wheelchair-bound and speaking with a voice synthesiser.
Whilst it would be wrong to ignore this aspect of his persona completely, Hawking never allowed it to define him and we felt it an appropriate tribute to merely mention it in passing where possible.
That is except to say that for every budding physicist he inspired, he also inspired someone with a disability to live their life to the full. It also gave him a passionate love for the NHS which he defended vigorously and vocally.
His paradigm-shifting work of black holes which led to the discovery of the so-called ‘Hawking Radiation' will always be one of his biggest achievements, but let us never forget his gift of the gab.
In an interview with John Oliver, when asked if, given that there are an infinite number of universes, if there is one where he was more intelligent than Hawking, he replied, "yes, and also one where you're funny".
On another occasion when asked what his biggest regrets were, he explained that it was never getting to run over Margaret Thatcher's foot.
Colleagues also refer to his knack for visual humour, recalling seemingly reckless driving of his electric wheelchair mostly aimed at scaring the crap out of whoever he was aiming for, but perfectly in control.
We could write thousands of words, show thousands of inspirational quotes, thousands of tributes from fans, mention hundreds of awards and honours, and cite his academic theories. But, somewhat ironically, there isn't time. Fortunately, his work is timeless.
Hawking died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family and while he never quite proved the Theory of Everything he designed, (which became the title for his 2014 biopic), he achieved more than most physicists will ever dream of, and his work will most likely be looked at in future millennia in the same breath as we talk about Plato and Archimedes now. µ
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