World-renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, who sought to understand a range of cosmic topics from the beginning of the universe to the intricacies of black holes, died Wednesday at the age of 76.
"His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world", the family said. "He once said, aIt would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him for ever", the statement added.
The British physicist was born in Oxford in 1942.
Since his early twenties, Hawking had lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease in which motor neurones die, leaving the brain incapable of controlling muscles. He was diagnosed in 1963, when he was 21, and doctors initially only gave him a few years to live.
Remarkably, Hawking defied predictions he would only live for a few years, overcoming its debilitating effects on his mobility and speech that left him paralysed and able to communicate only via a computer speech synthesiser.
For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease ignited a fresh sense of objective.
"My goal is simple", he once said.
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In 2007, Hawking published a children's book, "George's Secret Key to the Universe", with his daughter, Lucy, seeking to explain the workings of the solar system, asteroids, his pet subject of black holes and other celestial bodies.
The best-known theoretical physicist of his time, Professor Hawking wrote so lucidly of the mysteries of space, time and black holes that his book, A Brief History of Time, became an worldwide bestseller, making him one of science's biggest celebrities since Albert Einstein.
Hawking, together with Roger Penrose, united Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum theory to suggest that space and time began with the Big Bang and will end in black holes.
Considered by many to be the world's greatest living scientist, Hawking was also a cosmologist, astronomer, mathematician and author of numerous books including the landmark "A Brief History of Time", which has sold more than 10 million copies.
His 1988 book "A Brief History of Time" was an global bestseller; "A Briefer History of Time", meant to be more accessible, followed in 2005.
Stephen Hawking was undoubtedly an intellectual giant, making leaps of reasoning that sometimes led to startling insights into the nature of the physical world. "With some luck, with his passing will come some perspective as well as appreciation", wrote David Rothkopf.
A sign of his popularity came in October when Cambridge put Hawking's 1966 thesis online for the first time, and demand for the document was so high the university's website crashed.