Although his passing might seem a bit strange to bring up in relation to the entertainment industry, renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking has is as indominable a figure in pop culture as he is in science. No, really. He is most certainly a pioneer of all the wibbly-wobbly physics that have helped revolutionize that last two centuries, but he has unquestionably found crossover success through his multitudinous appearances, lampoons and depictions in film, television and elsewhere.
His harrowing life’s story, The Theory of Everything, was widely considered to be one of the best features to appear in 2014. At home, it won three British Academy Film Awards. One was for Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Hawking as his lifelong illness increasingly debilitated him, for Best Actor in a Leading Role. One was for Anthony McCarten for Best Adapted Screenplay, which was derived from the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, Stephen’s wife between 1965 and 1995. And, of course, it won the award for Best British Film against the fierce competition provided by films like The Imitation Game (detailing the life of cryptanalyst and mathematician Alan Turing) and Under the Skin (my favorite film of that entire year).
The film fared nearly as well overseas. It won a pair of Golden Globes and competed strongly in that year’s Academy Awards as well. Ultimately, it only took home the Best Actor award, although it was nominated for four others, including Best Picture.
Although one might imagine that Hawking’s body of written work would be dry and technical, he was actually a prolific and surprisingly popular author, with his publications being frequent features of various Best Seller lists the world over. A Brief History of Time, his most iconic and best-known work, for instance, was on the British Sunday Post‘s best seller list for a record breaking 237 weeks.
Additionally, he was an insatiable presence in popular TV series since his 1988 book propelled him into unexpected stardom, in part thanks to his rapacious wit (something that he is not often enough recognized for). He appeared in everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation to The Simpsons to The Big Bang Theory. He even appeared on-stage with Monty Python where he, believe it or not, sang in front of a live audience. My personal favorite, though, was his appearance on the Futurama episode Anthology of Interest I. In it, he was a member of Al Gore’s Vice Presidential Action Rangers alongside other Geek icons Gary Gygax, Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols and the computer Deep Blue, where he frequently took credit for the discovers and ideas of everybody around him.
Hawking’s contributions to the world were many, covering everything from scientific inquiry to popular entertainment. His absence has left a virtual black hole in the world, one that is not likely to be filled for years to come.
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