Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist and Author of 'A Brief History of Time,' Dies at 76

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Stephen Hawking

Hawking's life was depicted in the Oscar-nominated 2014 film 'The Theory of Everything.'

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, the author of the worldwide best-selling book A Brief History of Time and the subject of the Oscar-winning film The Theory of Everything, has died. He was 76. 

His children, Lucy, Robert and Tim confirmed the news early Wednesday to the BBC in a statement: "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."

A child prodigy, Hawking began his storied academic career in 1959, entering Oxford University at the age of 17. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21. At the time, his doctors gave him a life expectancy of two years. He would defy medical science and go on to have a long and distinguished academic career at Cambridge University.

He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge between 1979 and 2009, one of the world's most prestigious professorships held in the past by the likes of Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and Paul Dirac. 

Hawking's condition gradually paralyzed him over decades and he was only able to communicate using a single cheek muscle attached to a speech-generating device. Despite his disability, Hawking became a leader in his field, becoming an expert on black holes and giving his name to the phenomenon of Hawking radiation.

He achieved worldwide fame when his popular science book A Brief History of Time (1988) became a global best-seller and sold 10 million copies. Errol Morris adapted the book for the 1992 documentary film of the same name, with music by Philip Glass. 

Hawking's life was chronicled both on TV and the big screen, first in 2004 in the BBC telepic Hawking starring Benedict Cumberbatch and later in James Marsh's 2014 film The Theory of Everything. The latter movie starred Eddie Redmayne as Hawking, with Felicity Jones playing his first wife Jane Wilde Hawking.

The Theory of Everything was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, with Redmayne winning best actor and beating out Cumberbatch, coincidentally, who was nominated for his portrayal of Alan Turing, another British genius, in The Imitation Game

The Theory of Everything was adapted by Anthony McCarten from Jane Wilde Hawking's memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen. 

Outside of academia, Hawking became something of a pop culture icon, known widely for his wicked sense of humor as well as memorable appearances on The Simpsons, Futurama, The Big Bang Theory and Star Trek: The Next Generation

Hawking is survived by his three children, including journalist and novelist Lucy Hawking.