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14th Mar 2018

Stephen Hawking’s Simpsons appearances showed just how brilliant he was

How Stephen Hawking stole Homer Simpson's donut shaped universe

Oli Dugmore

How Stephen Hawking stole Homer Simpson’s donut shaped universe

Stephen Hawking first appeared in Simpsons episode “They Saved Lisa’s Brain.” In it, Springfield’s Mensa chapter takes control of the town with unfortunate results. Hawking arrives, empowers the dissatisfied mob and says he intends to steal Homer’s idea for a “donut shaped universe” in the episode’s closing scene.

The cameo was more than a plot device, the show’s writers needing someone with a higher IQ than any of Springfield’s space cadets, it came about because Hawking was actually a fan. He described the cartoon as “the best show on American television.”

Hawking developed a cultish following for the appearance, which earned critical acclaim and the top spot on several best Simpsons guest appearance lists. He featured in three more episodes, been replicated as a plastic action-figure and is routinely mistaken for a fictional character.

In fact, his role was so famous that it became a minor annoyance for him, when asked what the most common misconception about his work was. He replied, “People think I’m a Simpsons character.”

“The Simpsons appearances were great fun. But I don’t take them too seriously. I think The Simpsons have treated my disability responsibly,” Hawking also said.

On hearing of his passing, legendary producer Matt Selman tweeted that Hawking was “the most intelligent guest star” The Simpsons  had had.

Pop culture helped the physicist to pollinate his ideas, spreading them to the corners of Futurama, Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory and Family Guy where he was portrayed by Seth McFarlane.

And the fact he’s often mistaken for his yellow-animated counterpart shows how far those ideas have spread.

Hawking did actually make the case for Homer’s “donut shaped universe” in 1983 in collaboration with James Hartle. The pair argued the universe has no physical boundaries and travelling its length would be a circular journey comparable to circumnavigating the globe – and posited the same for time.

The theory was published before the episode broadcast in 1999, but it shows how pop culture and field-defining physics theories can overlap. Like a Venn diagram. That’s science, right?