Leader comment: Hawking was an inspirational scientist and human being

Stephen Hawking experiences zero gravity during a flight over the Atlantic Ocean in 2007. "It was amazing ... I could have gone on and on," he said.
Stephen Hawking experiences zero gravity during a flight over the Atlantic Ocean in 2007. "It was amazing ... I could have gone on and on," he said.
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Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist achieved such global fame. Professor Stephen Hawking made profound contributions to our understanding of the universe, discoveries that will remain important for centuries to come, according to his contemporaries.

Commenting on his death, Lord Martin Rees, a Royal Society ex-president who studied with Hawking at Cambridge, said: “Few, if any, of Einstein’s successors have done more to deepen out insights into gravity, space and time.” In any discussion of his life, his brilliance as a scientist should always come first.

READ MORE: ‘An extraordinary man’: Professor Stephen Hawking dies
But Hawking was also much more than a physicist – he was an inspiration to the world. Few people will ever face such adversity as he did. Diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, he said his “expectations were reduced to zero”. At that time, it was a death sentence, he was not expected to survive beyond a few years. One thing to make clear is that he did become depressed. He was not some kind of superhero who could simply brush off such a monumental setback and he responded as any of us would. In that display of ‘ordinariness’, this extraordinary person demonstrated there is always hope even in the direst of situations. And that is something which should give comfort to anyone experiencing the worst of times whether from disease, grief or other seemingly insurmountable tragedy. Speaking about assisted suicide, Hawking once said he agreed “the victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants”, but added: “I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”

READ MORE: 12 of Professor Stephen Hawking’s most memorable quotes

Unlike many scientists, he was unafraid to be political. Trump was a “demagogue”; Brexit was a mistake because “gone are the days we could stand on our own against the world”; and the NHS was a life-saver. Only in January, he joined campaigners against NHS privatisation in taking Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to court.

But while he could be serious, he also had a sense of humour. He was not afraid to be the butt of the joke on TV comedy The Big Bang Theory, he because a Simpsons cartoon character, and Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking in The Theory of Everything, described him as “the funniest man” he’d ever met.

On several fronts, the death of this shining star of a human being leaves the world a less brilliant place.