Stephen Hawking dies at 76: A look back at the life of the renowned British physicist

Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose mental genius and physical disability made him a household name and inspiration across the globe, has died at age 76, his family said Wednesday.

Propelled to superstardom by his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time,” which became an unlikely worldwide bestseller, Hawking dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of the universe.

His genius and wit won over fans from far beyond the rarified world of astrophysics, earning comparisons with Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton.

Born on January 8, 1942 — 300 years to the day after the death of the father of modern science, Galileo Galilei — Stephen William Hawking became one of the world’s most well-regarded scientists and entered the pantheon of science titans.

His death was announced on the 139th anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein.

Inside the shell of his increasingly useless body was a razor-sharp mind, with an enduring fascination with the mysteries of black holes.

His work focused on bringing together relativity — the nature of space and time — and quantum theory — how the smallest objects behave — to explain the creation of the universe and how it is governed.

“My goal is simple,” he once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” (AFP)

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<p>Cambridge Univ. physicist and author Prof. Stephen Hawking inside a lecture hall with math equations on blackboard behind him on Aug. 1, 1988. (Photo: Terry Smith/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images) </p>
Aug. 1, 1988

Cambridge Univ. physicist and author Prof. Stephen Hawking inside a lecture hall with math equations on blackboard behind him on Aug. 1, 1988. (Photo: Terry Smith/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

<p>Stephen Hawking with his then wife Jane in Paris on March 3, 1989 in Paris, France. (Photo: Gilles Bassignac/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images) </p>
March 3, 1989

Stephen Hawking with his then wife Jane in Paris on March 3, 1989 in Paris, France. (Photo: Gilles Bassignac/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

<p>Stephen Hawking British mathematician and scientist in1989. (Photo: Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images) </p>
In 1989

Stephen Hawking British mathematician and scientist in1989. (Photo: Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

<p>Professor Stephen Hawking and Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin, with their portraits unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England on Sept. 9. 1992. (Photo: PA Wire via ZUMA Press) </p>
Sept. 9. 1992

Professor Stephen Hawking and Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin, with their portraits unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England on Sept. 9. 1992. (Photo: PA Wire via ZUMA Press)

<p>Professor Stephen Hawking on set of Spielberg’s TV production “Brief History of Time.” (Photo: Avalon via ZUMA Press) </p>
On set of Spielberg’s TV production “Brief History of Time.”

Professor Stephen Hawking on set of Spielberg’s TV production “Brief History of Time.” (Photo: Avalon via ZUMA Press)

<p>Stephen Hawking and his new bride Elaine Mason pose for pictures after the blessing of their wedding at St. Barnabus Church, Sept. 16, 1995. The two honeymooned in Scotland. (Photo: Russell Boyce/Reuters) </p>
Sept. 16, 1995

Stephen Hawking and his new bride Elaine Mason pose for pictures after the blessing of their wedding at St. Barnabus Church, Sept. 16, 1995. The two honeymooned in Scotland. (Photo: Russell Boyce/Reuters)

<p>Microsoft President Bill Gates (L), accompanied by University Vice-Chancellor Professor Alec Broers, meets Professor Stephen Hawking on a visit to Cambridge University, Oct. 7, 1997. Gates, who had earlier in the day met Prime Minister Tony-Blair at Downing Street, is investing 20 million dollars of his personal fortune in a computer research centre at the university. (Photo: Stringer/Reuters) </p>
Oct. 7, 1997

Microsoft President Bill Gates (L), accompanied by University Vice-Chancellor Professor Alec Broers, meets Professor Stephen Hawking on a visit to Cambridge University, Oct. 7, 1997. Gates, who had earlier in the day met Prime Minister Tony-Blair at Downing Street, is investing 20 million dollars of his personal fortune in a computer research centre at the university. (Photo: Stringer/Reuters)

<p>The British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, known for his groundbreaking work with black holes and relativity, and the author of several popular science books including “A Brief History of Time,” is pictured in Cambridge, England, Nov. 2, 2005. (Photo: Andrew Buurman/eyevine ZUMA Press) </p>
Nov. 2, 2005

The British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, known for his groundbreaking work with black holes and relativity, and the author of several popular science books including “A Brief History of Time,” is pictured in Cambridge, England, Nov. 2, 2005. (Photo: Andrew Buurman/eyevine ZUMA Press)

<p>British scientist Stephen Hawking, visits the Temple of Heaven June 18, 2006 in Beijing, China. Hawking is visiting Beijing to attend the 2006 International Conference on String Theory, according to state media. (Photo: China Photos/Getty Images) </p>
June 18, 2006

British scientist Stephen Hawking, visits the Temple of Heaven June 18, 2006 in Beijing, China. Hawking is visiting Beijing to attend the 2006 International Conference on String Theory, according to state media. (Photo: China Photos/Getty Images)

<p>Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is assisted off the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center by his caregiver, Monica Guy, as he is applauded by members of the flight crew after completing a zero-gravity flight, Thursday, April 26, 2007, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Photo: Peter Cosgrove/AP) </p>
April 26, 2007

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is assisted off the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center by his caregiver, Monica Guy, as he is applauded by members of the flight crew after completing a zero-gravity flight, Thursday, April 26, 2007, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Photo: Peter Cosgrove/AP)

<p>British physicist Stephen Hawking delivers a lecture on “The Origin of the Universe” at the Heysel conference hall in Brussels, Belgium on May 20, 2007. (Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters) </p>
May 20, 2007

British physicist Stephen Hawking delivers a lecture on “The Origin of the Universe” at the Heysel conference hall in Brussels, Belgium on May 20, 2007. (Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

<p>British physicist Stephen Hawking is surrounded by the media after a meeting with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet (unseen) at the Presidential Palace in Santiago, Jan. 17, 2008. Hawking is in Chile to attend the birthday of a Chilean physicist. (Photo: Victor Ruiz Caballero/Reuters) </p>
Jan. 17, 2008

British physicist Stephen Hawking is surrounded by the media after a meeting with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet (unseen) at the Presidential Palace in Santiago, Jan. 17, 2008. Hawking is in Chile to attend the birthday of a Chilean physicist. (Photo: Victor Ruiz Caballero/Reuters)

<p>Former South African President Nelson Mandela, right, meets with British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking, left, in Johannesburg on May 15, 2008. (Photo: Denis Farrell/AP) </p>
May 15, 2008

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, right, meets with British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking, left, in Johannesburg on May 15, 2008. (Photo: Denis Farrell/AP)

<p>President Barack Obama (R) presents the Medal of Freedom to physicist Stephen Hawking during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Aug.12, 2009 in Washington. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) </p>
Aug. 12, 2009

President Barack Obama (R) presents the Medal of Freedom to physicist Stephen Hawking during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Aug.12, 2009 in Washington. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

<p>Professor Stephen Hawking watches the first preview of his new show for the Discovery Channel, “Stephen Hawking’s Universe” in London, Britain on April 29, 2010. (Photo: David Parry/PA Wire via ZUMA Press) </p>
April 29, 2010

Professor Stephen Hawking watches the first preview of his new show for the Discovery Channel, “Stephen Hawking’s Universe” in London, Britain on April 29, 2010. (Photo: David Parry/PA Wire via ZUMA Press)

<p>Cast member actress Jane Fonda (who portrays a Musicologist with ALS) (L) and Physicist Stephen Hawking (R) pose backstage after a preview performance of “33 Variations” at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre on February 1, 2011 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo: Ryan Miller/Getty Images) </p>
Feb. 1, 2011

Cast member actress Jane Fonda (who portrays a Musicologist with ALS) (L) and Physicist Stephen Hawking (R) pose backstage after a preview performance of “33 Variations” at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre on February 1, 2011 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo: Ryan Miller/Getty Images)

<p>Professor Stephen Hawking attends the gala screening of “Hawking” on the opening night of the Cambridge Film Festival held at Emmanuel College on Sept. 19, 2013 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. (Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images) </p>
Sept. 19, 2013

Professor Stephen Hawking attends the gala screening of “Hawking” on the opening night of the Cambridge Film Festival held at Emmanuel College on Sept. 19, 2013 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. (Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images)

<p>Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (L) meets Stephen Hawking during a reception for Leonard Cheshire Disability charity at St James’s Palace in London, May 29, 2014. (Photo: Jonathan Brady/Pool/Reuters) </p>
May 29, 2014

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (L) meets Stephen Hawking during a reception for Leonard Cheshire Disability charity at St James’s Palace in London, May 29, 2014. (Photo: Jonathan Brady/Pool/Reuters)

<p>Stephen Hawking attends the closing night after party for ‘Monty Python Live (Mostly)’ at The O2 Arena on July 20, 2014 in London, England. (Photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images) </p>
July 20, 2014

Stephen Hawking attends the closing night after party for ‘Monty Python Live (Mostly)’ at The O2 Arena on July 20, 2014 in London, England. (Photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

<p>Jane Wilde Hawking kisses her ex-husband Stephen Hawking as she arrives at the UK premiere of the film “The Theory of Everything” which is based around Stephen Hawking’s life, at a cinema in central London, Britain, Dec. 9, 2014. Actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who play Stephen and Jane in the film, look on. (Photo: Andrew Winning/Reuters) </p>
Dec. 9, 2014

Jane Wilde Hawking kisses her ex-husband Stephen Hawking as she arrives at the UK premiere of the film “The Theory of Everything” which is based around Stephen Hawking’s life, at a cinema in central London, Britain, Dec. 9, 2014. Actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who play Stephen and Jane in the film, look on. (Photo: Andrew Winning/Reuters)

<p>Stephen Hawking attends the EE British Academy Film Awards at The Royal Opera House on Feb. 8, 2015 in London, Britain. (Photo: Mike Marsland/WireImage/Getty Images) </p>
Feb. 8, 2015

Stephen Hawking attends the EE British Academy Film Awards at The Royal Opera House on Feb. 8, 2015 in London, Britain. (Photo: Mike Marsland/WireImage/Getty Images)

<p>Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy arrive at the British Academy of Film and Arts (BAFTA) awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London, Britain, Feb. 8, 2015. (Photo: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters) </p>
Feb. 8, 2015

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy arrive at the British Academy of Film and Arts (BAFTA) awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London, Britain, Feb. 8, 2015. (Photo: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

<p>Professor Stephen Hawking (L) speaks at a media event to launch a global science initiative as Cosmologist Martin Rees (C) and Astronomer Frank Drake look on at The Royal Society in London, Britain, July 20, 2015. (Photo: Neil Hall/Reuters) </p>
July 20, 2015

Professor Stephen Hawking (L) speaks at a media event to launch a global science initiative as Cosmologist Martin Rees (C) and Astronomer Frank Drake look on at The Royal Society in London, Britain, July 20, 2015. (Photo: Neil Hall/Reuters)

<p>British musician and astrophysicist Brian May holds a medal as he attends a launch event for a new award for science communication, called the Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication, in London in Britain, Dec.16, 2015. (Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters) </p>
Dec.16, 2015

British musician and astrophysicist Brian May holds a medal as he attends a launch event for a new award for science communication, called the Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication, in London in Britain, Dec.16, 2015. (Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters)

<p>Physicist Stephen Hawking sits on stage during an announcement of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative with investor Yuri Milner in New York, April 12, 2016. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters) </p>
April 12, 2016

Physicist Stephen Hawking sits on stage during an announcement of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative with investor Yuri Milner in New York, April 12, 2016. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

<p>Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking is presented with his illuminated Freedom scroll by the Chamberlain of the City of London Peter Kane as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London, March 6, 2017. (Photo: Matt Dunham/AP) </p>
March 6, 2017

Britain’s Professor Stephen Hawking is presented with his illuminated Freedom scroll by the Chamberlain of the City of London Peter Kane as he receives the Honorary Freedom of the City of London during a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London, March 6, 2017. (Photo: Matt Dunham/AP)

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