Professor Stephen Hawking, a gifted theoretical physicist who changed our perceptions of the universe and black holes, was also widely known for his wry sense of humor and love of pop culture. Suffering from motor neurone disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) since his diagnosis in 1963, Hawking described in a documentary decades later how embracing humor helped him live with the disease.
"Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has maintaining a sense of humor," he said. "I am probably better known for my appearances on 'The Simpsons' and on 'The Big Bang Theory' than I am for my scientific discoveries."
It's fitting then that one of Hawking's last public broadcasts before his death on March 14 at the age of 76 came in a cameo role in BBC's Radio 4's presentation of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase." The six-part series, adapted from Douglas Adams' beloved science-fiction franchise, features Hawking voicing The Guide Mark II, a powerful and extremely intelligent being spanning multiple dimensions in time and space.
"When we were thinking of cameos for the new series, I suddenly thought of Professor Stephen Hawking," producer David Morley told Chortle. "Douglas Adams’ work is admired by many of the world’s top scientists because of its innovative and hilarious twisting of the real universe, so I took a punt and asked the Professor if he’d like to actually play a role in the new series."
To Morley's surprise, Hawking was completely into the idea.
"It turned out that he was a huge fan of 'Hitchhiker’s' and was keen to see the script," he shared. "He very quickly came back with a resounding ‘yes’, and [fellow producer] Dirk Maggs and I were jumping up and down with joy. His part blends perfectly with the actors. The results are fantastic."
'Others knew me in different forms'
Episode one, featuring Hawking as the Mark II, aired publicly for the first time on March 8. In the audio snippet available below, there's even a brief hint by one of the actors that the omniscient voice they're hearing seems somewhat familiar.
"Others knew me in different forms. I have been quite popular in my time," Hawking quips as the MKII, "Some even read my books."
While Hawking brought the mysteries of the cosmos to the masses through bestsellers and endless cameos in both television, radio, and film, he'll also be remembered for his touching observations of humanity. In an interview with Diane Sawyer in June 2010, Hawking shared the advice he gave to his children — recommendations for a good life that all of us could benefit from embracing.
"One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet," he shared. "Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away."