Professor Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist who died Wednesday at the age of 76, enthralled the world with his work and teachings on space, time, and the universe.
He had a knack for making his pioneering research accessible to the wider public, and his brilliance deepened our understanding of the universe and our place within it.
Throughout his illustrious career, he was known for his quick wit and humor, often demonstrated at conferences and in interviews with the press. He also offered insights on a whole range of subjects. Here are some of his most famous quotes:
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” Hawking gave this now-famous piece of advice to his three children Lucy, Robert and Tim and related it in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer in 2010. Included in those words of advice were: “Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.” And: “if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
“However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope,” he told Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2006.
On living with a disability
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically,” he told the New York Times in 2011. Hawking was frequently frank about his battle with ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that often proves fatal. But he defied doctors expectations, living for over half a century after he was diagnosed in 1963, at the age of 21. The year before, he said in an introduction to the 2010 TV documentary series Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking: “Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.”
On being diagnosed with ALS
“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus,” he told the New York Times in 2004, after being asked how he kept his spirits up. “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.”
On being a celebrity
“The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized,” he told an Israeli journalist in 2006. “It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.”
On the potential of humans
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special,” Hawking told German paper Der Spiegel in 1988. He often spoke about space exploration and the extent of human potential.
“They are a complete mystery,” he said in an interview with The New Scientist magazine in 2012, having confessed to having spent most of his 70th birthday thinking not about the wonders of the cosmos, but about women.
“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason,” Hawking told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in 2010. “Science will win, because it works.” But his work wasn’t all dry rationality. “Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion,” he told PARADE magazine in 2010.
On the reason the universe exits
“If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God,” he wrote in his 1988 bestseller ‘A Brief History of Time’.
On finding alien life
“Primitive life is relatively common, but that intelligent life is very rare. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth,” he said at an event honoring the 50th anniversary of NASA at George Washington University in 2008.
On climate change
I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet,” he said in an interview with The Telegraph in 2011. “But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.” In recent years, Hawking spoke and wrote about the dangers posed by climate change and the frailties of planet Earth.
“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” Hawking said in an interview with The Guardian in May 2011.
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Eli Meixler at firstname.lastname@example.org