Stephen Hawking was the rare scientist with enough bona fide star power to influence popular culture and help “geekery enter mass media,” say science broadcasters who followed his career.
The work and stature of the late physicist, who reportedly sold more than 10 million copies of his cosmology book “A Brief History of Time,” led to his being drawn into “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” recruited for a guest role on “Big Bang Theory,” and immortalized on the big screen by Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for his leading role in “The Theory of Everything.”
Hawking, who was diagnosed at 21 with the degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, died Wednesday at age 76.
“The greatest minds of our time are people who can start to think in that really, really large-scale or even a really micro-scale way and be able to (translate) that in a simple and effective way to a large audience and really sort of enchant them,” says Ziya Tong, a co-host and producer of Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet” science show.
“The thing about science is it starts to really gravitate to certain people when you can deliver it in a bite-sized, fun kind of way. That’s what Stephen Hawking was able to do, to kind of take something that’s really out there … and still get people excited and remind them about why these ideas are so important.”
Jay Ingram, a science author and former host of “Daily Planet” and CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks,” recalls the impact “A Brief History of Time,” first published in 1988, had in popular culture and how owning it became a status symbol.
“You’d see it on people’s coffee tables,” Ingram says.
“There is a bit of an irony there because while I think it had a huge impact on bringing Hawking and cosmology to a general audience, it also has been joked that this is the bestselling book of all time that most people didn’t read.”
Ingram admitted that he too struggled with some concepts in the book even though its language “was quite straightforward.”
“The concepts were so unearthly that in a way it was sort of hard to grasp. Like he’d talk about imaginary numbers — well those are tools that physicists use all the time, but for people who aren’t physicists, like me, I really don’t have much of a clue what an imaginary number is,” Ingram says.
“But he’d just use it a sentence and …read more