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Remembering Stephen Hawking

"Life would be tragic, if it weren't funny."

Image via Business Insider

Kera Morris, Reporter

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Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and one of the ‘rock stars’ of the science world, passed away March 14, 2018, leaving behind a robust legacy of furthering human understanding of the universe in which we live.

For much of Hawking’s life, he was well known. Initially famous in academic circles, his desire to make complicated science accessible to the rest of us and his sense of humor launched him into the wider public sphere.

In 1988, Hawking published A Brief History Of Time, which he later quipped is perhaps the most purchased, least read book of all time. American mathematician Jordan Ellenberg agreed, cheekily coining the Hawking Index, a system by which one can measure how much of a book in digital format a reader got through before giving up.

An Oscar-winning biopic, The Theory of Everything, came out in 2014. Over the decades, Hawking granted countless interviews and published a number of books for adults and children alike.

Hawking’s life is compelling. His genius dramatically increased the sum of human knowledge and propelled him into fame. His disability—Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease—alongside his popularity made him a visible advocate for research into the disease. Early on, his physicians predicted his death would occur decades earlier than it did, but Hawking apparently existed to defy odds.

But the best side of living in a world at the same time as Stephen Hawking? How he made us laugh.

In 2009, Hawking decided to throw a party–one that would serve two purposes. Having a party, and running a simple experiment to determine whether time travel from the future into the past, our present, happens. With champagne and hors-d’oeuvres on offer, he waited patiently for guests to arrive. The caveat? The invitations didn’t go out until the party was over.

“I sat there a long time, but no one came,” Hawking said.

 

As a guest on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Hawking cameoed as a holographic version of himself playing poker with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Lt. Commander Data. Cracking jokes with Einstein and causing aggravation to the father of calculus, Newton, Hawking is clearly having a grand time on the holodeck of the USS Enterprise D.

According to producers, while touring the set of ST: TNG Hawking paused to admire the warp core, and commented: “I’m working on that.”

Hawking was a consistent guest star on several TV shows. With regular appearances on The Simpsons, as well as occasional appearances on Futurama, Hawking embraced his comedic side. Enjoy a cartoon physicist punching the perpetually irritating Principal Skinner, after the intelligent denizens of Springfield argue over their respective IQs.

(Hawking, incidentally, when actually asked about his IQ responded that he didn’t know the number, and in his opinion “People who boast about their IQ are losers.”)

 

How about the time The Big Bang Theory lead character Dr. Sheldon Cooper got to meet his idol, and share some of his findings?

 

When not appearing in cartoon or sitcom format, Hawking enjoyed a bit of banter with late-night comedians, baring his barbed wit. A highlight—John Oliver of Last Week Tonight points out during an interview with Hawking, “You’ve stated that there could be an infinite number of parallel universes… does that mean that there is a universe out there where I’m smarter than you?” To which Hawking replies, “Yes, and also a universe where you’re funny.”

Hawking amused himself further in small joys, such as running over the toes of people he found annoying or awful. During a meeting with Prince Charles, Hawking nailed the heir to the British throne while twirling his wheelchair about; according to his biography, one of his greatest regrets in life was not having the opportunity to run over Margaret Thatcher’s toes.

While the death of any well-known person invites social grief, in the case of a passing of someone like Hawking the mood can shift quickly from somber sorrow to what I believe a lot of us hope for when we’re gone- the sharing of stories and anecdotes, laughs and “Remember when?”

And people certainly do. A great gift of laughter inspired by the antics of the world-renowned scientist came about shortly after his passing when Twitter users, mostly residents of Cambridge, England, discovered that nearly killing Stephen Hawking wasn’t the one-off fluke each near-killer believed. Apparently, a lot of people almost killed the theoretical physicist, and their bonding over social media is a hilarious salve on the sting of loss.

Image via Twitter
The origin of the epic “I nearly killed Stephen Hawking” Twitterstorm.

Stephen Hawking’s death is, of course, sad. But mankind was gifted more time with Hawking than medical science thought possible. Thus, we celebrate. For your enjoyment, we offer an auto-tuned music video for science nerds starring none other than Hawking and another lost rock star of science, Carl Sagan.

Goodbye, Stephen. You’re stardust again, and we’ll miss you.

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