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Why was Stephen Hawking so loved in popular culture?

By Rediff Get Ahead Bureau
March 14, 2018 13:18 IST
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The many reasons why the famed scientist was a minor celebrity in Hollywood.

Stephen Hawking

General view of a screen showing physicist Stephen Hawking during the performance on the opening night of 'Monty Python Live' in London. 
Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Back in 2015, Stephen Hawking was quizzed about the one thing he saw online that he found hilarious.

His reply was 'The Big Bang Theory'.

Big Bang was also the cosmological model which Hawking created, but it was his brief role in popular sitcom that made people notice his humorous side.

According to the Daily News, 'it was his legendary career that made him a minor celebrity, even in Hollywood'.

The scientist appeared for a little over two minutes on the sitcom where he played himself and reviewed Sheldon (Jim Parsons) paper.

The Big Bang Theory

Stephen Hawking made a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory
Photograph: Kind courtesy CBS

Over a period of time, he appeared in more episodes and also was a part of the 200th episode to sing Happy Birthday to Sheldon.

It's not quite usual for a scientist to appear in popular culture, and it was Hawking's fame that lead to his appearances on sitcoms, with films and songs being written about him.

Hawking lived such a remarkable life that in 1991 filmmaker Errol Morris chose to make a documentary on the famous physicist and cosmologist.  

Titled A Brief History of Time, Morris's film was based on Hawking's life and work. 

Another film that's etched in our minds is 2004's Hawking.

The film revolved around young Hawking 's life as a PhD student at Cambridge University and his struggle against the motor neuron disease and stared Benedict Cumberbatch as Hawking -- it was the first-ever portrayal of the physicist on screen.

Stephen Hawking

Actor Eddie Redmayne poses with Stephen Hawking as they arrive at the UK premiere of the film The Theory of Everything which was based around Hawking's life.
Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters 

Later in 2014, Eddie Redmayne played Hawking in his biographical romantic drama film, The Theory of Everything.

Set in Cambridge University, the film detailed the life of the theoretical physicist from the early 1960s to the 80s.   

Redmayne went ahead to win the Academy Award for the Best Actor for the film, which bagged three BAFTA awards and two Golden Globes. 

Almost two decades ago, he also appeared on The Simpsons show for the episode They Saved Lisa's Brain.


Photograph: A clip from The Simpsons

In the episode he rescued Lisa in a special wheelchair, complete with a retractable helicopter attachment. 

He later revealed in an interview with The Guardian that he didn't take the show too seriously, but enjoyed appearing in the show.

'The Simpsons' appearance was great fun. I think The Simpsons have treated my disability responsibly,' he said in the interview. 

Over a period of time, Hawking had over five appearances in the show and during the British Comedy Awards 2004, he was even presented a toy version of himself in The Simpsons form, a copy of which he kept in his office. 

Stephen Hawking

Hawking displayed a cartoon of himself with characters from the famous television serial The Simpson Family during a public lecture in Mumbai. 
Photograph: Savita Kirloskar/Reuters

According to The Guardian, 'The frequency with which Hawking appeared on shows like The Simpsons proved he was happy to be on the inside laughing out.'

'The appearance in helped earn Hawking a certain cult status,' the report added.

In a 1993 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he appeared as his own hologram making him the only guest in any of the Star Trek series to play himself. 

Little later did fans realise that Hawking was a self-proclaimed Star Trek fan. 

Hawking also made several guest appearances in Futurama.

Stephen Hawking

As a comic book character for an illustrated series about his life, Stephen Hawking: Riddles Of Time & Space.
Photograph: Kind courtesy

The British scientist also featured as a comic book character for an illustrated series about his life, Stephen Hawking: Riddles Of Time & Space.

The book covered Hawking's college days, his work as a researcher at Cambridge and some of his key discoveries.

The book provided a glimpse into 'the man, the myth and the legend,' writers of the book said.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking on John Oliver's Last Week Tonight.

The scientist appeared in the first installment of John Oliver's The People Who Think Good series on his popular show Last Week Tonight

It was on the show that the scientist showed off his comic talents by mocking the host. He left the audience in splits with his excellent comic timing. 

When quizzed about the one thing that he'd want people to understand about his work, Hawking said, 'Imaginary time. People think it is something you have in dreams. 

'Or when you are up against a deadline. But it is a well-defined concept. 

'Imaginary time is like another direction in space. It is the one bit of my wok science fiction writers haven't used. Because they don't understand it.'  

Scroll down to see a collage of another funny moment on the show. 

Stephen Hawking

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