The life, lessons, and inspiration from the iconic genius who taught us how the universe began.
Stephen William Hawking (1942 – 2018) was a brilliant theoretical physicist, cosmologist, best selling author and pop culture phenomenon that shed light on the many mysteries of the cosmos, origins of the universe, and the nature of time.
He suffered from a motor neuron disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which causes progressive degeneration of nerve cells. The disease, which he was diagnosed with when he was only 21 years old, almost entirely paralyzed him and forced him into a wheelchair with a computer-generated voice synthesizer as a means of communicating.
Despite these challenges, Hawking’s mental state remained intact, and his ideas would revolutionize the way the world came to understand the universe itself.
In Stephen Hawking’s obituary, Dennis Overbye of the New York Times writes:
Hawking “roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity.”
Many believe that through his contributions to science, he was the greatest theoretical physicist since Einstein.
Hawking was born in Oxford, United Kingdom on January 8, 1942. His mother described the young Hawking as an avid party goer who “liked pretty — only pretty ones” and “to some extent, like[d] work.” Hawking said that his parents encouraged him to “always question things and think big.” Hawking later recollected,
“To outsiders, the Hawking household was considered eccentric, but, for me, it was a place where my mind was constantly challenged.”
Following in his parent’s footsteps, the young Hawking attended Cambridge. It was here that he began to take interest in Physics (the study of energy and matter), and after graduating, Hawking continued his postgraduate education at Cambridge University, specializing in the field of Cosmology.
In 1965 — two years after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and given only two years to live — Hawking fell in love with Jane Wilde. Despite being fully aware of the challenges yet to come, they married.
Hawking said that his marriage “gave [him] something to live for” and gave him the motivation he needed to push forward with his research. He continues, “I started working hard for the first in my life.”
Despite his ever-worsening physical condition, Hawking’s pop culture fame skyrocketed along with his scientific progress.
In 1988, Hawking published his famous book “A Brief History of Time” which became an international bestseller. It sold more than 10 million copies and earned a spot in the Genius Book of World Records as the book to stay on the best seller’s list the longest.
In addition to his scientific repute, Hawking became embedded in the cultural zeitgeist of the US, UK and beyond. Hawking embraced celebrity and saw it as a way to get the public interested in science and the universe.
In part due to the tensions that fame brought, his marriage with Jane crumbled. Jane and Hawking divorced, and in 1955, Hawking remarried Elaine Watson, one of his nurses. After some controversy, they too also divorced.
Stephen Hawking appeared in popular shows such as The Simpsons, Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory, and Futurama. He led and starred in several documentaries about his life and discoveries and even has his own reality show. He did stand up with Jim Carrey on The Conan Show, and hilariously burned comedian John Oliver on late-night TV.
And in 2014, the movie The Theory of Everything intimately depicted Hawking’s life and relationships and won several awards.
When not solving the great mysteries of the universe, Hawking advocated for disability rights, universal health care, space exploration and protecting the environment.
Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14, 2018 at age 76. His tireless work, good humor, and fearless perseverance have made him an inspiration to millions — a legacy that will remain as immutable after his death as the laws of physics he helped to shed light on.
Here are the 20 best (and sometimes surprisingly funny) Stephen Hawking quotes about life, disabilities and the universe.
1. He understood the urgency of the need to protect our planet.
“Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill.” — Stephen Hawking
2. His advice to those struggling with a disability:
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.” — Stephen Hawking
3. His key to success despite setbacks:
“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humor.” — Stephen Hawking
4. You better work! (and love).
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” — Stephen Hawking
5. He urges us to believe that no matter the circumstances, there is always something you can do.
“Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” — Stephen Hawking
6. He understood dark humor.
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” — Stephen Hawking
7. His logical take on life after death.
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” — Stephen Hawking
8. He was a bit snarky.
“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.” — Stephen Hawking
9. The spirit of a life in pursuit of science.
“No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no one knew before.” — Stephen Hawking
10. Don’t limit yourself.
“Obviously, because of my disability, I need assistance. But I have always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and lead as full a life as possible. I have traveled the world, from the Antarctic to zero gravity.” — Stephen Hawking
11. An observation on the simplistic beauty of scientific discoveries.
“Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology and the fundamental equations of physics.” — Stephen Hawking
12. Keep calm and carry on.
“It is no good getting furious if you get stuck. What I do is keep thinking about the problem but work on something else. Sometimes it is years before I see the way forward. In the case of information loss and black holes, it was 29 years.” — Stephen Hawking
13. He knew the importance of keeping an open mind.
“Even if it turns out that time travel is impossible, it is important that we understand why it is impossible.” — Stephen Hawking
14. He had faith in human capabilities.
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” — Stephen Hawking
15. He knew all to personally the mystique of the mad genius.
“No one can resist the idea of a crippled genius.” — Stephen Hawking
16. He was fearless.
“I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.” — Stephen Hawking
17. Wait.. what?
“Nothing cannot exist forever.” — Stephen Hawking
18. Mind blown.
“The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.” — Stephen Hawking
19. A call to action for our generation.
“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” — Stephen Hawking
20. How much time do YOU have left?
“I have so much that I want to do. I hate wasting time.” — Stephen Hawking