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14th Mar 2018

Stephen Hawking’s passing came three decades after doctors offered to turn off his life support

James Dawson

 His achievements came in defiance of all medical expectation.

You likely woke up this morning to the tragic news that Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday.

He was the first scientist to explain the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, was ranked number 25 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, and his book A Brief History of Time has appeared on the British Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

But his countless scientific and personal achievements came in defiance of all medical expectations.

Back in 1963, when he was just 21 years old, Hawking was diagnosed as suffering from the motor neurone disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The disease causes the progressive degeneration and death of the nerve cells in the body that control voluntary muscle movements, including chewing, walking, talking and breathing. The average life expectancy after a diagnosis of the condition is just three years.

And, although he would go on to live much longer than anyone first predicted, in 1985, when the theoretical physicist was struck down with pneumonia, doctors queried whether his life support should be turned off.

However, his then wife refused and he survived the illness.

In the 2013 documentary Hawking, he explained: “The doctors thought I was so far gone that they offered Jane to turn off the machine.

“Jane refused to turn it off. She insisted I be flown back to Cambridge.

“The weeks of intensive care which followed were the darkest of my life.”

After recovering from the period of ill health, two years later he released his ground-breaking book A Brief History of Time and would go on to be played by Eddie Redmayne in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything.   

Sadly, he has finally passed away. 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.”