Stephen Hawking

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World-Renowned Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking Dead At 76

March 14, 2018 - 6:07 am

CAMBRIDGE, England (WCBS 880/AP) -- Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has died. He was 76.

In a statement, his children Lucy, Robert and Tim called him "a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.''

The best-known theoretical physicist of his time, Hawking wrote so lucidly of the mysteries of space, time and black holes that his book, "A Brief History of Time,'' became an international best-seller, making him one of science's biggest celebrities since Albert Einstein.

It also led to appearances on shows such as "The Simpsons." 

Even though his body was attacked by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, when Hawking was 21, he stunned doctors by living with the usually fatal illness for more than 50 years.

At age 60 he told CBS News, "For me that is quite an achievement. I never thought I would get so far."

Professor Stephen Toope, vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge, is praising Hawking as an inspiration to millions, saying he will be missed all over the world.

Toope said that Hawking's "exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularization of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy.''

Speaking to WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace Wednesday afternoon, CBS News Science and Futurist Contributor Dr. Michio Kaku said Hawking was the rock star of science – up there with Albert Einstein in his discoveries.

“Just like Einstein, he was in some sense a messenger from the stars. You know, the stars are in our dreams. Every night when we look up in the sky, we wonder: ‘What does all mean? Where did we come from? Where are we going?’” Kaku said. “And that’s what Einstein and Stephen Hawking did. They gave us a front row seat to the wonders of the cosmos.”

Hawking was known for his quest for a theory of everything – a singular theory that provides theoretical framework to explain all physical aspects of the universe completely. In his quest, Hawking made some discoveries that expanded upon and even refuted some of Einstein’s conclusions, Kaku said.

“Einstein is the one who first talked about a theory of everything, but he didn’t have much of the details concerning the nuclear force – quantum mechanics,” Kaku said. “That’s where Stephen Hawking came in. He took black holes – which are a consequence of Einstein’s equations – and applied nuclear physics to these black holes, and found out that black holes are not really black. They’re actually gray. They actually seep out radiation. So he forced us to revise all the textbooks about Einstein.”\

As to anyone who could filling the void left by Hawking, Kaku said it would be a “very tall order.”

“Not only was he a great scientist – he had a great sense of humor, and he could talk to millions of people with his bestselling books. I mean, how many normal people can do that who are not suffering from ALS?” Kaku said. “And normally, ALS is sufficient to crush – crush you; destroy you. But you know, he got diagnosed when he was 21 years of age, and he rose to the challenge. How many of us can say that? Rising to the challenge, even if your body becomes paralyzed?”

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking in the aptly-named film "The Theory of Everything,'' described the scientist as the funniest man he ever met.

Redmayne says: "We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.''

The British actor played the mathematical genius across decades of physical degeneration -- all under Hawking's watchful gaze. Redmayne said at the time of the film that Hawking wanted to live life to the full, and that he always had a glint in his eye.

(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press contributed to this report.)