British scientist Stephen Hawking dies at 76

LONDON – Professor Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday, his family said. He was 76.

The world’s most celebrated scientist was famed for his work with black holes and relativity, and wrote several popular science books including A Brief History of Time.

Born 8 January 1942 in England, Hawking earned place at Oxford University to read natural science in 1959, before studying for his PhD at Cambridge.

At the age of 22, Prof Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease. The illness left him in a wheelchair and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesizer.

In 1979, he became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge – a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton.

In the late 1990s, he was reportedly offered a knighthood, but 10 years later revealed he had turned it down over issues with the government’s funding for science.

In a statement his children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

They praised his “courage and persistence” and said his “brilliance and humour” inspired people across the world.

“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera took to Twitter to highlight Hawking’s contribution to science.

He wrote (in Spanish): “Thanks to Stephen Hawking for opening our minds about the origin of the Universe and life. He showed us a path that revolutionized science and taught us that when we have will and talent, we are able to touch the stars. May he rest in peace.”

The scientist gained popularity outside the academic world and appeared in several TV shows including The Simpsons, Red Dwarf and The Big Bang Theory.

He was portrayed in both TV and film – recently by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, which charted his rise to fame and relationship with his first wife, Jane.

His most famous book – A Brief History of Time – has now shot to the top of the Amazon Best Sellers list.

Tributes have poured in for Prof Hawking since the announcement of his death.

Prime Minister Theresa May said Dr Hawking was “a brilliant and extraordinary mind – one of the great scientists of his generation’ whose ‘courage, humor and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration”, the BBC reported.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the scientist for his “determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos” and his “burning passion to protect our National Health Service.”