Stephen William Hawking CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (8 January 1942 14 March 2018) was an English theoretical astrophysicist known for his world-recognised work on black holes, theoretical cosmology, and quantum gravity. The ability to do most of this work entirely in his head led him to be generally recognized as the most brilliant scientist since Albert Einstein (Hawking himself disputed that title, however, arguing himself to be, at best, the greatest scientist since Richard Feynman, whom he considered the best since Einstein). The reason this was necessary is that he had been left almost paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, "speaking" through a specially-designed computer (the voice of which is also very well-known), due to his having motor neuron disease (MND). This is the collective name for a group of five related degenerative neural disorders, of which best-known to the general public is ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known to Americans as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's not definitively known which form of MND he had, although it was believed he had ALS. (He was rather famous for his affliction, as well: if it was ALS, it was the most protracted case ever recorded — it didn't progress the way ALS normally does, which stymied a definitive diagnosis, which can only be confirmed by post-mortem dissection of the brain.)
In fact, Hawking was one of the many celebrities challenged to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of 2015—which he did—but due to a then-recent bout of pneumonia he could not safely have ice water dumped on him. His children took his place in the challenge.
Hawking was also quite famous for his sense of humour. He appeared several times on The Simpsonsnote , Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory As Himself, each time bordering on the line of Adam Westing. (And yes, that's him reciting one of the "Boom-de-yadas" in the Discovery Channel's "I Love The Whole World" promo.) Expies of him appeared in parody form (Family Guy) and in Charlie and the Chocolate Parody form (Dexter's Laboratory and Sausage Party). He appeared as a character, but not on camera (perhaps he couldn't make the shoot fit his schedule, or just didn't like the show), in an episode of Stargate Atlantis. Finally, he was the only person to appear in any Star Trek series As Himself (obviously, as a holodeck recreation of himself). Hawking was also known to be a fan of Red Dwarf. And while he was not involved in the production of the nerdcore rapper M.C. Hawking (which uses a VERY similar text-to-speech voice program), he gave his full approval of the parody act.
While he never won a Nobel Prize for Physics, the fact that the 2020 prize was awarded to three scientists for their work on black holes, a field in which Hawking was the leading expert, suggests that he likely would have co-won that year's award were it not for the rule that Nobels cannot be awarded posthumously. In fact, one of the actual winners openly stated that if Hawking was still alive, he should have gotten a share of the credit.
He's been played in Hawking by Benedict Cumberbatch, who also provides voiceover narration in Hawking's documentaries, and Eddie Redmayne in the 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything, who ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Actor.
He also co-wrote George's Secret Key to the Universe with his daughter Lucy.
Hawking passed away on the 14th of March, 2018 at the age of 76. For the record, this means he lived 55 years past his initial diagnosis.
- Adam Westing: He tended to be portrayed as an Insufferable Genius whenever he made an appearance as himself on a TV show. Anytime he appeared in animated form, you could usually expect his wheelchair to be a Super Wheelchair taken Up to Eleven, with gadgets to put Inspector Gadget or the Transformers to shame.
- And I Must Scream: Defied despite his condition. Put best with this quote from Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking:Hawking: Hello. I am Stephen Hawking. Physicist, cosmologist, and something of a dreamer. Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.
- The Artifact/Grandfather Clause: He used the same voice synthesizer for decades, even as it got increasingly out of date. It would have been easy for him to attain a more advanced one, or even just one that actually has an English accent, but he realized that the particular voice he had all these years was an iconic part of his public image, so he didn't bother to upgrade. Even when the 30-year old hardware voice synthesizer began to fail in 2017, Hawking still wanted to keep his iconic voice, necessitating that the band of engineers who built the device in the first place be Put Back Together to create an emulator of the device in order to preserve his voice.
- As Himself: The only person to have appeared in the entire Star Trek franchise As Himself.note
- Badass Boast: Upon seeing the Warp-Core during his tour of the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation:Hawking: I'm working on that...
- Badass Bookworm: The man lived with ALS for most of his adult life, and kept it at bay enough to still be one of the greatest scientists in the modern world, even living to old age despite being told he'd be dead within two years of prognosis. Considering the reputation the disease has, that's incredible.
- Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Astonishingly, he was born on the death date of Galileo Galilei (January 8th) three hundred years to the day and died on the same day Albert Einstein was born (March 14) and at the same age (76).
- Cool Old Guy: Was still studying and reivising theories about black holes up until his passing at age 76.
- Determinator: At 21, he was told he had (at most) two-and-a-half years left to live. Ordinary people would consider suicide when diagnosed with an And I Must Scream-causing disease that cannot be cured. He lived to age 76 (so 55 years with the condition), which among other things forced a mandatory retirement from his post at Cambridge University (the same position once held by Isaac Newton) because the University forbids anyone older than 67 from holding it. At the age of 70, he participated in (and helped narrate) the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.Hawking: Life has thrown at me both good times and bad. Perhaps it is human nature, that we adapt, and survive. As for me, I have lived with the prospect of an early death most of my life. I am not afraid of dying, but I am in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do and find out first.
- Disabled Snarker:
- In a mock interview with John Oliver, he had many sarcastic lines:Oliver: You've stated that you believe there could be an infinite number of parallel universes. Does that mean that there is a universe out there where I am smarter than you?Hawking: Yes. And also a universe where you're funny.
- Once when he encountered Brent Spiner (who played Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation and played poker with Hawking in that series) at a convention, he said, "Brent, you still owe me twenty dollars!" and at another, more recent convention, quipped, "Where's my money, Spiner?"
- His opening statement on England's chances at winning The World Cup:Hawking: It is widely accepted in the field, that a key factor of achieving World Cup champions status is winning matches.
- In a mock interview with John Oliver, he had many sarcastic lines:
- Disney Owns This Trope: His synthetic voice was trademarked, to the point that once he saw The Theory of Everything, his approval led to a similar computerized speech being replaced by the real deal. While copyrighting one's voice seems a bit blusterous, it's worth noting that it's much easier to create a 1:1 replication of a computer-generated voice than a real one; Hawking was likely aware of the high risk of people fabricating recordings of him and took measures in advance to prevent such an issue.
- Genius Cripple: The Trope Codifier for modern portrayals and interpretations of this trope.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Asked how he had fathered children despite his condition, he replied that Lou Gehrig's Disease only affects voluntary muscles.note
- Handicapped Badass: Anyone who defies an And I Must Scream condition, live to old age even when all odds were stacked against him note , and becomes a significant figure of pop culture has to count as one.
- Hope Sprouts Eternal: 55 years with ALS weren't enough to break him down.
- Improbably High I.Q.: While Hawking most likely had one of the world's highest IQs, he neither knew nor cared what it was, calling everyone who boasted about theirs losers.
- Machine Monotone: His synthesiser was actually quite antiquated (over thirty years old by the time of his death), yet he continued using it because the synthesiser's monotone was so universally associated with him and was, in effect, his actual voice as far as most people were concerned.
- MayflyDecember Romance: Subverted. By the time he and Jane Wilde got engaged in their twenties, he had already been given about two years to live. He famously went on to live for decades longer, right up to the age of 76.
- Mistaken Nationality: Due to his American-accented computer voice and frequent appearances in American TV shows, some people were unaware that he was actually British.
- Nerd Glasses: Probably helped popularize this trope as well.
- No Backwards Compatibility in the Future: In The New '10s, the hardware voice synthesizer that provided his voice started showing signs of failure with no way to replace it, threatening to erase his iconic voice forever. As a solution to this problem, he ended up bringing back together the team of engineers who designed the synthesizer to create an emulator of the device that could run on a modern computer.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: He was the subject of several Expy characters.
- Robo Speak: His famous near-monotone voice synthesizer. He turned down many offers to improve and humanise the voice, saying that it's become the voice that people expect him to have. And of course it is recognised the world over.
- Self-Deprecation: He took his paralysis with good humor and even made jokes about it. Mentioning that his professorial chair at Cambridge was formerly held by Isaac Newton, he remarked, "They say it's Newton's chair, but obviously it's been changed." Also, when giving a speech at Stanford, he told the audience that he hoped they could understand his British accent.
- Silent Snarker: A variation. Since Hawking's voice computer couldn't really do inflection, Hawking himself would indicate sarcasm or slyness through use of the occasional Aside Glance and eyeroll.
- Significant Birth Date: Born three hundred years to the day after the death of Galileo. And inverted with his date of death, which happened to be Albert Einstein's birthday. Which, coincidentally, is also the date Karl Marx died. His death day is also Pi Day.
- The Speechless: After his diagnosis, his speech became progressively more impaired until a bout of pneumonia and subsequent tracheotomy silenced his voice altogether. He used text-to-speech technology to communicate with people.
- Synthetic Voice Actor: A famous example, and probably the Trope Codifier for many other examples. Notably, he appeared As Himself on several popular shows using his distinctive Machine Monotone voice, and even trademarked it due to just how distinctive it was.
- Time Travel: His long-standing theory was that, outside of Time Dilation effects, time-travel is impossible for various reasons.
- Showing off his sense of humor again, he once held a reception for any possible time travelers but only publicized it after it was already over.
- In the PBS miniseries Genius by Stephen Hawking, he uses a simulation with three DeLoreans to demonstrate that time travel to the past would require you (or at least whatever particles make up your body) to be duplicated, a violation of conservation of mass.
- Translator Buddy: Before his tracheotomy, he could speak but was extremely difficult to understand, leaving his family and colleagues to interpret his words into coherent English.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: His voice synthesizer caused him to be mistaken for an American. He would have preferred to replace it with a synthesizer with a British accent, but it became so synonymous with himself that he couldn't.
- A Wizard Did It: Defied. God did not create the Universe, according to Hawking. Or more specifically, He may have, but He didn't need to, as it can be explained by gravity and quantum mechanics. His theory was challenged (along with his theory on the existence of black holes) but he remained confident about the possibility. Some groups over the years ended up misinterpreting these claims by suggesting that Hawking had openly denied the existence of a God (which made the fallout from his death a bit ugly in popular discussion once these groups started to resurface), but again, Hawking only contested the idea that God alone was necessary for the creation of the Universe.