Passage: Stephen Hawking

Professor of mathematics at Cambridge University Stephen W. Hawking discusses theories on the origin of the universe in a talk in Berkeley, California, March 13, 2007.

Kimberly White/REUTERS

If anyone of our own time deserved the title of genius, it was Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist who died this past Wednesday at the age of 76.

Hawking transformed our notion of space and time, and the nature of black holes -- and did it all while confined to a wheelchair and deprived of speech.

Born in the English university town of Oxford in 1942, and a less-than-stellar student at first, Hawking was just 21 when he was diagnosed with ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease -- and told he had just a few years to live.

Undaunted, he defied his prognosis by decades -- pursuing his research at Cambridge while communicating through computerized speech, astonishing even himself, as he once told "60 Minutes":   "For me, it is quite an achievement. I never thought I would get so far."


Hawking became a celebrity in 1988 with the publication of his "A Brief History of Time" -- one of the best-selling books about science of ALL time.

His public honors were almost beyond counting. He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. 

And he was portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in the 2014 film, "The Theory of Everything."

He even made cameo appearances on "The Simpsons":

Homer Simpson having a beer with Stephen Hawking by Simpsons Best Moments on YouTube

Whatever the explanation, the mind of Stephen Hawking saw more -- and saw more deeply -- than the minds of all the rest of us. A genius, indeed.

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Story produced by Cai Thomas.