Rare genius’: the world pays tribute to Stephen Hawking

Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking

From astronauts to world leaders, tributes have poured in for Stephen Hawking, the modern British physicist and author who has died aged 76.

Theresa May described him as “brilliant and extraordinary”, adding that his “courage, humour, determination to get the most from life was an inspiration”.Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said Hawking “inspired the world” but also praised the way he had campaigned for the NHS.The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, with whom Hawking repeatedly clashed over funding and reforms to the NHS, tweeted that his adversary was a “defining force in the world of science”. He added: “We didn’t agree on everything, but he was still a hero to me as one of our greatest ever thinkers.”Tim Peake, who spent more than six months in space in 2016, said Hawking had inspired generations to “look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe”.Nasa also tweeted that: “His theories unlocked the universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. … May you keep flying like superman in microgravity.”

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said Hawking’s “grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world”.Donald Tusk, president of the European council, quoted one of Hawking’s most memorable remarks about how, despite having motor neurone disease, he did not give up.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, was one of many to highlight Hawking’s sense of humour. “It’s sad to lose him but what a memory we will have of him,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Wednesday.

 The veteran US talkshow host Larry King also gave an example of Hawking’s humour in his tribute.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, was one of the first to respond to news of Hawking’s death, saying on Twitter: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit.”

The University of Cambridge vice-chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope, said Hawking was an inspiration to millions. “Professor Hawking was a unique individual who will be remembered with warmth and affection not only in Cambridge but all over the world. His exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy. His character was an inspiration to millions.”

The Planetary Society wrote: “Farewell to a beautiful mind”, while the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson shared a photo of himself and Hawking. “His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake,” he wrote.Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, also tweeted her appreciation.Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, wrote: “We lost a great one today.”

Many scientists shared details of their encounters with Hawking over the years.

Prof James Hartle, who collaborated with Hawking to develop the Hartle-Hawking wave function, said: “What was unique about him was that he had a marvellous ability to see through all the clutter in physics and to see what the central points are.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “His whole story is one of triumph over adversity and who inspired a lot of people including me.”

The broadcaster and physicist Prof Brian Cox said Hawking’s contribution to science was timeless.The Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell remembered Hawking’s determination to deliver a lecture despite struggling to speak.

The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield lamented his death, saying: “Genius is so fine and rare. Goodbye Professor Hawking. You inspired us all.” Fellow astronaut Scott Kelly said Hawking’s death was “a loss for all humanity”.

Tributes also came from the entertainment industry.

Errol Morris made the 1991 film A Brief History of Time, which was based on concepts addressed in Hawking’s famous book. Morris wrote that Hawking was “a truly fabulous human being”.

The Foo Fighters said he was a “fucking legend”, while actor Macaulay Culkin paid tribute to “a genius and my favourite Simpsons character”.

Singer Katy Perry noted that Hawking died on Pi Day, the annual celebration of the mathematical constant pi, writing “there’s a big black hole in my heart”. Steven Tyler from the band Aerosmith wrote on Twitter: “You changed the world.”

The British TV presenter Jonathan Ross said: “The world just dropped a lot of IQ points.”

As news of Hawking’s death spread, images of an empty wheelchair were also shared on social media.