Scientists, politicians and actors have paid tribute to world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who has been called an “inspiration to millions”.
The British scientist, famed for his work on black holes, died peacefully at his home in Cambridge aged 76.
Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, one of the world’s most eminent scientists, described his life as a “triumph”.
Others described him as a “unique individual” whose death “has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake”.
Prof Hawking was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease at the age of 22 and was told he had only a few years to live.
He was famed for his theories on black holes and relativity and went on to publish several popular science books including A Brief History of Time.
The University of Cambridge, where Prof Hawking completed his PhD and went on to become Lucasian Professor of Mathematics – a role once held by Sir Isaac Newton – described him as “an inspiration to millions”.
Prime Minister Theresa May opened PMQs with a tribute, telling MPs that Prof Hawking’s “exceptional contributions to science and our knowledge of the universe speak for themselves”.
“As his children have said, his courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world,” she said.
Many friends and fans have also hailed his humour, with actor Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Prof Hawking in 2014 film biopic The Theory of Everything, calling him “the funniest man I have ever met”.
Fellow actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who also played Prof Hawking in a 2004 BBC TV film, remembered his “wickedly funny sense of humour”.
He added: “He virtually created the publishing genre of popular science. I will miss our margaritas but will raise one to the stars to celebrate your life”.
Meanwhile, Lord Rees – who holds the most prestigious post in astronomy in the UK – recalled meeting Prof Hawking at Cambridge University in 1964, describing him as “unsteady on his feet and speaking with great difficulty” following his diagnosis with the degenerative disease.
“Even mere survival would have been a medical marvel, but of course he didn’t just survive. He became one of the most famous scientists in the world,” Lord Rees said
“He was diagnosed with a deadly disease, and his expectations dropped to zero. He himself said that everything that happened since then was a bonus.”
“And what a triumph his life has been.
“Millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds – a manifestation of amazing will-power and determination,” Lord Rees added.
Stars from the world of showbiz including Sam Smith, Nancy Sinatra and Janelle Monáe also shared tributes.
Cher recalled meeting Prof Hawking for lunch and discussing history while Katy Perry said: “There’s a big black hole in my heart”.
Prof Hawking’s family said in a statement: “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.”
From the worlds of science, technology and space, Nasa said Prof Hawking’s theories “unlocked a universe of possibilities”, adding: “May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on [the International Space Station] in 2014.”
British astronaut Tim Peake, who flew in space in 2016, said Prof Hawking “inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe”.
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, praised Prof Hawking’s “colossal mind and wonderful spirit” while American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted: “His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake.”
The European Space Agency shared a photo of Prof Hawking in 2007 experiencing zero gravity aboard a plane, alongside a caption which said he “showed us there are no limits to achieving our dreams”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Brian Cox called Prof Hawking “one of the greats” and said physicists in 1,000 years’ time “will still be talking about Hawking radiation”, his theory about black holes.
American astrophysicist George Smoot, who knew Prof Hawking for many years, also paid tribute, describing him as “very competitive”.
Factfile: Stephen Hawking
- Born 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England
- Earned place at Oxford University to read natural science in 1959, before studying for his PhD at Cambridge
- By 1963, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live
- Outlined his theory that black holes emit “Hawking radiation” in 1974
- In 1979, he became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge – a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton
- Published his book A Brief History of Time in 1988, which has sold more than 10 million copies
- In the late 1990s, he was reportedly offered a knighthood, but 10 years later revealed he had turned it down over issues with the government’s funding for science
Meanwhile, Professor Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge said Prof Hawking – who brought complex theories to the masses with his 1988 best-selling book A Brief History of Time – has left “an indelible legacy”.
“Prof Hawking was a unique individual who will be remembered with warmth and affection not only in Cambridge but all over the world,” he said. “He will be much missed.”
Labour leader Corbyn paid tribute to Prof Hawking – who was a Labour supporter – and said he “inspired the world with his determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos”.
“But he also showed breathtaking courage to overcome life’s adversities and a burning passion to protect our National Health Service. He will be greatly missed,” he added.
Comedian Dara O’Briain, who has a degree in mathematics and theoretical physics and is also the presenter of the BBC’s Stargazing Live, called Prof Hawking “a hero of mine”.
He said: “What a privilege it was to know Stephen Hawking. He was a triumph of what we, as humans, can achieve.”
Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Prof Hawking in film biopic The Theory of Everything in 2014, said in a statement: “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
“My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.”
Meanwhile, neuroscientist and The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, who met with Prof Hawking when he starred in the series, shared a photo of him and the cast.
She described him as “the greatest physicist of our era” while the show itself thanked him “for inspiring us and the world”.
Many people have praised Prof Hawking’s contribution to popular culture, with Oxford University biologist Sally Le Page remarking he was “as much as a cultural icon as a scientific one”.
According to online retailer Amazon, Prof Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time has risen to the top of its best sellers list following the announcement of his death on Wednesday.
The Royal Albert Hall said the “genius” Prof Hawking was the second physicist, after Albert Einstein in 1933, to ever sell out the venue with his lecture in 1995.
The Motor Neurone Disease Association, said Prof Hawking “played a vital role” in raising awareness of the disease, which kills more than half of people within two years of diagnosis.
The charity said it had seen such an “influx of donations” following the announcement of Prof Hawking’s death that its website had crashed.