British scientist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking attends a launch event for a new award for science communication, called the Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication, in London, Dec 16, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)

British scientist Stephen Hawking dead at age 76

Professor Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76, a family spokesperson said on Wednesday (Mar 14).

The esteemed cosmologist was a household name and inspiration across the globe because of his mental genius and physical disability. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the tantalising prospect of time travel to the mysteries of space's all-consuming black holes.

"We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today," Professor Hawking's children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim said in a statement carried by Britain's Press Association news agency.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. 

“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.

“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

Hawking defied predictions he would only live for a few years after developing a form of motor neurone disease that left him confined to a wheelchair.

The disease spurred him to work harder but also contributed to the collapse of his two marriages, he wrote in a 2013 memoir, My Brief History.

(YouTube: CNN)

In the book he related how he was first diagnosed: "I felt it was very unfair - why should this happen to me," he wrote.

"At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would never realise the potential I felt I had. But now, 50 years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life."

Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for no fewer than 237 weeks.

He said he wrote the book to convey his own excitement over recent discoveries about the universe.

“My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls," he told reporters at the time. "In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it."

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