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Stephen Hawking: A Global Pop-Culture Favourite

Felicity Jones,Professor Stephen Hawking and Eddie Redmayne attend the UK Premiere of “The Theory Of Everything” at Odeon Leicester Square on December 9, 2014 in London, England. (Getty)

by Libby Hill

Pop culture loved Stephen Hawking, and Stephen Hawking loved pop culture back.

In fact, entertainment fed most of the world’s knowledge of the acclaimed physicist, whose brain and brilliance remained unmarred as Lou Gehrig’s disease ravaged his body. He died at 76 on Wednesday morning in his native England.

We learned through movies and television and even music that Hawking’s intelligence was not limited to the greater universe. He also told a mean joke.

Here are a few of Hawking’s finer moments in the pop-culture cosmos.

HAWKING, THE MAN

“A Brief History of Time” (1991)

One of the most intimate examinations of Hawking’s life and life’s work was Errol Morris’ 1991 documentary “A Brief History of Time.”

The film, titled after a book with the same name by Hawking, featured interviews with friends, family, colleagues and Hawking himself, giving audiences a glimpse at the man and mind behind the voice.

“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” (2014)

Hawking never shied away from speaking for himself.

In a 2014 interview with Oliver for HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” Hawking played along with the host’s questions, but bested him when things got a little out of hand.

“You’re an idiot,” Hawking told Oliver, after the host asked how he could know that a sentient robot wasn’t posing as Hawking using his voice.

“Yeah, but who’s saying that, Stephen? You or the machine?” Oliver replied.

“Both of us,” Hawking replied, deadpan.

TV presenter Simon Cowell, scientist Stephen Hawking and Matt Groening pose in the Awards Room with his award for Best International Comedy Show at the “British Comedy Awards 2004” at London Television Studios on December 22, 2004 in London. Jonathan Ross hosted the star-studded annual awards. (Getty Images)

HAWKING, THE MUSE

“The Theory of Everything” (2014)

Hawking has also been portrayed by others several times in film, most notably by Eddie Redmayne in James Marsh’s 2014 film, “The Theory of Everything.”

Redmayne earned the Oscar for lead actor for his performance and high praise from Hawking, who said in a Facebook post after seeing the film, “At times, I thought he was me.”

“Hawking” (2004)

Ten years earlier, BBC television paid its homage to the scientist with “Hawking.” Playing Hawking in the tale of his time at Cambridge University was none other than eventual “Sherlock” star Benedict Cumberbatch.

Hawking, the guest star

When Hawking started making appearances as himself on scripted television shows he really leveled up as a pop-culture legend.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1993)

In addition to cameos, he made television history. With his appearance in a 1993 episode of “Star Trek: TNG,” during which he played a hologram of himself playing poker with Data, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, Hawking became the first — and only — person to play themselves in an episode of “Star Trek.”

THE SIMPSONS. L-R:Lisa, Marge, Stephen Hawking and Homer on the right.They Saved Lisa’s Brain episode of THE SIMPSONS on FOX. (Getty Images)

“The Simpsons” and “Futurama”

Hawking lent his voice talents to numerous episodes of Matt Groening’s animated series “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” and forged a fast friendship with the creator.

At the British Comedy Awards in 2004, Groening presented Hawking with a Simpsons toy version of himself and Hawking presented Groening with a lifetime achievement award.

But the best thing about Hawking’s repeated appearances on Groening’s shows was how he leaned into being a version of himself that was kind of a jerk: Exhibit A.

“The Big Bang Theory”

Hawking also found a repeated home on science-haven sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” where Hawking was a (hilarious) god among man-children.

In his first appearance, Hawking points out a math error to protagonist Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). The bond between Hawking and the show led the physicist to introduce the San Diego Comic-Con panel for the series in 2013.

HAWKING, THE MUSICAL INSPIRATION

With television and film covered, he eventually even crossed over into music.

“The Galaxy Song” as covered by Stephen Hawking (2015)

Hawking teamed up with another group of U.K. legends with his 2015 cover of Monty Python’s “The Galaxy Song” in celebration of that year’s Record Store Day.

Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” and “Talkin’ Hawkin” (1994, 2014)

David Gilmour, longtime member of Pink Floyd, was so moved by a 1994 commercial featuring Hawking’s words, that he sampled the audio for not one, but two of the band’s songs, 20 years apart.

Todd Rundgren’s “Hawking” (1989)

Rundgren featured a song on his 1989 album, “Nearly Human,” with the physicist in mind.

“The inspiration [for ‘Hawking’] was not anecdotal — one person with a disease — so much as the concept of what bravery is and what humanity is,” Rundgren said in a 1990 interview with The Times. “So many people waste themselves. They just kind of fall into an average consumerist existence, and life is an endless round of the latest TV show and the latest movie. They forget the greater questions of what existence is about, why these things are here for our benefit.”

Stephen Hawking appearing as his own holographic counterpart in the Star Trek: The Next Generation sixth season episode “Descent” in 1993.

HAWKING, THE COMIC-BOOK CAMEO

Indeed, Hawking’s brilliance was so evident that he even made a comic-book appearance in the Marvel Universe as himself and identified as a known mutant sympathizer in the world of “Ultimate X-Men.”

This article was published by The Los Angeles Times.

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