Professor Stephen Hawking will now be enjoying ‘well-earned peace’ after an ‘extraordinary and courageous’ life, his former wife Jane said last night following the death of the theoretical physicist.
Professor Hawking, 76, who was given just two years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neuron disease at the age of 22 defied all expectations to become a father-of-three, bestselling author and groundbreaking scientist.
His proposal that black holes could lose energy and evaporate by sending out ‘Hawking Radiation’ changed how physicists viewed the universe. If his theory had been observed in his lifetime he would almost certainly have won a Nobel Prize.
Ever campaigning, Prof Hawking turned down a knighthood in the 1990s in protest of science funding cuts and more recently was part of a group taking the NHS to judicial review over the commercialisation of health services.
Even in the months before his death, Professor Hawking was still attempting to find a grand unified theory which would describe the behaviour of all matter in the universe, from tiny particles to giant gravity-bending planets, as well as lecturing widely and hunting for alien civilisations.
However in the past fortnight his health had begun to fail, and he was confined to his bed at home on a respirator, barely able to blink to indicate he understood what was being said by loved ones. Yesterday his family announced he had passed away peacefully.
Jane Hawking, who was married to the physicist for 30 years said: “I am glad to be able to say that he died peacefully in the comfort of his own home.
“The peace that he has found is well earned after such an extraordinary and courageous life, but we shall feel his loss keenly for a long time.”
In a statement, his children Lucy, Robert and Tim paid tribute to the ‘great scientist and extraordinary man, whose work and legacy will live on for many years.’
Tributes also poured in from heads of state around the globe, scientists, politicians, charities and musicians.
The Queen sent condolences to Professor Hawking’s family while Prime Minister Theresa May described the physicist as a ‘brilliant and extraordinary mind’ who was an inspiration to the country.
US President Barack Obama posted a picture of himself with Prof Hawking with the message ‘have fun out there among the stars.’
Although Prof Hawking’s devastating illness left him unable to walk or talk without a computer assisted device, following a bout of pneumonia, he still continue to work, and in 1988 published the smash hit book A Brief History of Time, which went on to sell more than 10 million copies.
Astronomer Royal Lord Professor Martin Rees said: “His name will live in the annals of science; 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 odds – a manifestation of amazing will power and determination.”
Eddie Redmayne, the actor who won an Oscar for his performance of Prof Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything said the world had ‘lost a truly beautiful mind.’
The University of Cambridge’s Gonville and Caius College, where Professor Hawking was a fellow for more than half a century said they were planning a lasting memorial for the scientist.
A spokesman said they were communicating closely with family members. Hundreds of people have already signed a book of condolence at the college.