• Hawking died from complications caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Well-known for authoring A Brief History of Time in 1985 - one of the best selling scientific books of all time
  • His work included theories on black holes, the Big Bang, and "Hawking radiation"
  • He never received the Nobel but was the recipient of various honors and awards

Physicist Stephen Hawking has passed away at the age of 76, his family confirmed Wednesday, March 14. He died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday.

Hawking's children Lucy, Robert, and Tim said 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."

"His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor 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," the statement added. 

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Hawking died on March 14, which is observed as National Pi Day, and which happens to be the birthday of the other renowned physicist that humanity has known, Albert Einstein. Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963 at the age of 21. The disease progressed a lot more slowly than in most cases, this allowed him to continue his research in spite of his condition.

Stephen Hawking at One World Observatory on April 12, 2016 in New York City.
Stephen Hawking at One World Observatory on April 12, 2016, in New York.Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Hawking, known the world over as the author of "A Brief History of Time" also served as the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.

Hawking is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US.

Hawking's run of radical discoveries had also led to his election in 1974 to the Royal Society at the exceptionally young age of 32.

In five years, he became the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge - a position formerly held by Isaac Newton and Charles Babbage. He held this chair for a period of 30 years.

Hawking's long list of achievements made him one of the brightest minds humanity ever created. He was the recipient of Albert Einstein Award, the Wolf Prize, the Copley Medal, and the Fundamental Physics Prize. Hawking, however, was not awarded the Nobel.

In 1970, Hawking and Roger Penrose were able to theoretically demonstrate the singularity - a point from which the Big Bang started by applying the mathematics of black holes and scaling it up to the entire universe. This was considered to be his first major scientific breakthrough.

Hawking's views were often controversial. He was known to engage in long debates on scientific theories and often disagreed with his peers, even participating in wagers.

"My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all," he once said.

In more recent years, his views on artificial intelligence and his outspoken skepticism about machine learning and the advancement of this technology are well documented. In a Reddit AMA he did a few years back, he had said, "The real risk with AI isn't malice but competence. A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren't aligned with ours, we're in trouble".

On when this machine to human singularity will occur, he said, "There's no consensus among AI researchers about how long it will take to build human-level AI and beyond, so please don't trust anyone who claims to know for sure that it will happen in your lifetime or that it won't happen in your lifetime.

"When it eventually does occur, it's likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, so there's huge value in getting it right."

There was also a lighter side to the serious cosmologist. He was known to have quite the sense of humor. He often ran over the toes of people he didn't particularly like with his wheelchair and cracked jokes all the time. His AMA is peppered with lighthearted jabs and comments between his in-depth discussions on the nature of the universe and AI.

A Brief History of Time

Arguably Hawking's most famous piece of literature, it was the publication of this book that catapulted him to superstardom and recognition all over the world, not just in scientific circles. It stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for a record 237 weeks. It sold over 10 million copies and was translated into 40 languages.

Marriage and personal life

He married his college girlfriend Jane Wilde in 1965, two years after his diagnoses. In 1985, on a trip to CERN, Hawking reportedly picked up an infection that led doctors to request his wife to withdraw life support, she refused. He was flown back to the UK and the operation that saved his life but destroyed his voice. The marriage broke down in 1991. The couple had three children.

Four years later, Hawking married Elaine Mason, one of his nurses and former wife of David Mason, who designed his speech synthesizer.

Hawking's sudden death has left generations of fans shocked and grieving.