Professor Stephen Hawking has died aged 76

Professor Stephen Hawking has died aged 76

THE world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76.

The Briton died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of this morning, his family said.

Considered by many to have been the world's greatest living scientist, Prof Hawking was also a cosmologist, astronomer, mathematician and author of numerous books including the bestseller A Brief History of Time.

At the age of 21, Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – a rare form of motor neurone disease.

The illness left him wheelchair-bound and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser – with its computerised American accent achieving iconic status in recent decades, partly thanks to his numerous appearances on The Simpsons.

In 2015, British actor Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Prof Hawking in the biopic The Theory of Everything the previous year.

In a statement, Prof Hawking's children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, said: "We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

"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 humor 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."

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, was one of the first people to pay tribute to Prof Hawking this morning.

"We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking," he wrote on Twitter.

Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain, a friend of Prof Hawking and theoretical physicist in his own right, said: "Ah, what a week for losing icons and legends. I’ll tweet more tomorrow when I have the measure of it, but what an immeasurable life he had."

American astrophysisist Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote: "His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018."

While in their own statement, US space agency NASA described Prof Hawking as an "ambassador of science".

They added: "His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity."