(CNN) Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British theoretical physicist who overcame a debilitating disease to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, has died, according to a family spokesman. He was 76.
WORLD: Stephen Hawking, renowned scientist, dies at 76
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.
Hawking suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a neurodegenerative disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is usually fatal within a few years. He was diagnosed in 1963, when he was 21, and doctors initially only gave him a few years to live.
The disease left Hawking wheelchair-bound and paralyzed. He was able to move only a few fingers on one hand and was completely dependent on others or on technology for virtually everything — bathing, dressing, eating, even speech.
Hawking used a speech synthesizer that allowed him to speak in a computerized voice with an American accent.
Hawking was married twice. He and his first wife, Jane Wilde, wed when he was still a grad student and remained together for 30 years before divorcing in 1995. Hawking was later married for 11 years to Elaine Mason, one of his former nurses.
Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on what turned out to be an auspicious date: January 8, 1942 — the 300th anniversary of the death of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.
At Cambridge, he held the position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics — the prestigious post held from 1669 to 1702 by Sir Isaac Newton, widely considered one of the greatest scientists in modern history.