Stephen Hawking may have studied the stars, but he was also a star in his own right. More than that, in fact.
The irreplaceable physicist passed away on Tuesday night at the age of 76, but what he shared with humanity will live on forever. Not just breakthrough findings about gravitational singularities and black hole mechanics, but the humility with which he carried his genius. (He was as humble as a modern scientist could be as the namesake for a type of radiation.) Some of the smartest people in the world could learn a lot from him about being generous with one’s time and not taking one’s self too seriously. Hawking exuded these qualities in abundance with a game attitude toward his place in pop culture.
Let’s take a non-theoretical look at Stephen Hawking’s astronomic impact.
Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris made a film out of Hawking’s most famous book, A Brief History of Time, but the story of his life itself proved ample cinematic fodder as well. Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his role as Sexy-Ass Young Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, one year after Benedict Cumberbatch played a similar character in BBC’s Hawking.
Whether Hawking genuinely liked all the nerdy TV shows he appeared on, such as The Big Bang Theory and Star Trek: The Next Generation, is unclear. He was definitely aware, however, of the creators’ affinity for his contributions to physics and cosmology, and must have sensed that a cameo from him might drive more casual fans toward sharing that passion. It was a net win for science!
There is less doubt about whether the peerless physicist was a fan of Matt Groening. Hawking appeared on The Simpsons no less than four times, he cameo’d on Futurama the show, as well as a June 2017 ad for a Futurama video game, and he once presented Matt Groening with a lifetime achievement award at the British Comedy Awards in 2004.
Hawking also selectively chose a few talk show appearances, including a surprise phone call to Jim Carrey when the latter was guesting on Conan, and a funny informative interview with John Oliver in 2014.
In 2014, the cosmologist’s famously electronic vocal stylings were sampled on a Pink Floyd album (for the second time), and then the following year they landed in an even less likely place: a song with Monty Python. “The Galaxy Song” originally appeared in a key scene of the 1983 Python film The Meaning of Life, but the legendary comedy troupe performed a reconfigured version of the tune on its Live (mostly) tour, with Hawking lending his (famously electronic) pipes.
Finally, you might not think one of the greatest minds in the universe would have time to participate in viral video phenomena like the Ice Bucket Challenge, but Hawking had a good reason for doing so. The challenge was meant to raise awareness for ALS, and Hawking is perhaps the most famous person to suffer from the disease.
RIP Stephen Hawking: May you come to understand the next world as much as you helped us understand this one.