Hawking’s net worth was estimated to be $20 million, according to multiple sources. While Hawking suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since 1963 and required around-the-clock care as well as his iconic wheelchair and computer speech system according to Scientific American, he none the less earned millions through his academic work.
Here’s everything you need to know about how Hawking acquired his wealth.
1. Hawking Was a Bestselling Author, Battled ALS for Most of His Life
Hawking is one of the most famous scientists to have ever lived, and his early work on black holes changed the way we think about gravity and the universe, according to NPR. Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University and friend and colleague of Hawking told NPR that physicists once thought that nothing could escape the massive gravitational pull of black holes. But Hawking, through his knowledge of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, theorized that there was a kind of particle that had to defy what was expected from gravity and radiate from black holes. The radiation is now called Hawking radiation, according to Krauss. Scientific American adds that according to Hawking black holes gradually lose mass as Hawking radiation escapes and eventually evaporate, though this process could take longer than the universe has existed.
Hawking applied his work to several books, many of which went on to become bestsellers. One of his most famous works, A Brief History of Time, was on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for more than four years according to Inverse.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a group of rare neurological diseases where the motor neurons responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement progressively deteriorate and die, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Both the upper and lower motor neurons degenerate and stop sending messages to the muscles so they can move. Eventually the muscles start to weaken and degenerate and the brain loses its ability to initiate and control voluntary movements. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure within 3 to 5 years after the appearance of symptoms, though 10 percent survive for 10 or more years. The disease left most of Hawking’s body paralyzed and since 1985 he had to speak through his computer system by operating it with his cheek, according to Scientific American.
However, Hawking’s disability may have contributed to his intellectual abilities, argued California Institute of Technology physicist and one of Hawking’s colleagues Kip Thorne to NPR. “It was because of this handicap that he developed new ways of thinking,” Thorne said, “new ways of wrapping his brain around things that enabled him to out-think anybody else in the field.”
Never the less, Hawking had to have around-the-clock care according to Scientific American. Hawking was hospitalized at Addenbrooke’s Hospital at Cambridge University in 2009 after battling a chest infection for several weeks, CBS News reported. He was sent to Gemelli Hospital in 2016 while he was in Rome to attend a conference at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and meet Pope Francis, and even though he went through two days of tests his condition was not believed to be serious according to Business Insider. The Gemelli is considered one of Rome’s best hospitals and is where the popes are treated, Business Insider reported.
2. He Held a Prestigious Position at a Prestigious University
Hawking was the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (CTC) at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) at the University of Cambridge, according to CTC’s official website.
Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford, England on January 8, 1942. He went to University College, Oxford to study physics and after three years was awarded a first class honours degree in Natural Science, according to CTC. He then went to Cambridge to research cosmology and after he obtained his Ph. D he became a Research Fellow and then a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. After he left the Institute of Astronomy in 1973, he arrived at DAMTP in 1979 and was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from then until 2009.
Hawking also toured the world to give lectures and talks.
3. He Had a Movie Produced About His Life
A film known as The Theory of Everything was released in 2014. The film was a biopic about Hawking’s life.
Eddie Redmayne won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year for portraying Hawking. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress for Felicity Jones, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. The film also won the British Academy Film Awards for Outstanding British Film, Best Leading Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Hawking portrayed himself in television shows like The Simpsons, Star Trek, and The Big Bang Theory.
4. He Won Many Awards for his Work
Hawking won many awards and honors throughout his life, including the Adams Prize in 1966, the Albert Einstein Award in 1978, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 to name just a few.
According to The Guardian, Hawking was awarded $3 million in cash for winning the Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 as part of Russian billionaire Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Foundation. In 2006 Hawking won the Copley medal, the Royal Society’s most prestigious prize for scientific achievement and the oldest scientific award in the world and was also given to Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Captain James Cook according to The Guardian. The award earned him £5,000 ($6,981.65).
Hawking also had an award named in his honor. The Stephen Hawking Medals for Science Communication is a “milestone award for those promoting science throughout the arts,” according to Starmus.
5. He Doesn’t Care Much for Material Possessions, Believed Money Was a Key Factor in Brexit
In an op-ed written by Hawking on The Guardian, he said that his wealth has played an important practical role in his life to pay for his medical care and his work. However, he does not care about the acquisition of possessions. He said that he doesn’t know what he would do with a racehorse or a Ferrari even if he could buy them. “So I have come to see money as a facilitator, as a means to an end – whether it is for ideas, or health, or security – but never as an end in itself,” he said.
His views on wealth were part of an editorial arguing that money was a key factor in the outcome of the EU referendum, otherwise known as Brexit. He argued during the referendum campaign that it would be a mistake for Britain to leave the European Union, saying that it would cut off funding for science from the European commission and cut funding for school support for disabled students which helped him during his career. He said that people are starting to question the current attitude on wealth, thinking about how knowledge could be more important than money, how possessions can stand in the way of fulfillment, and if we can truly own anything. He said that this “cathedral thinking,” or ideas started by one generation for the next one to take up, will be very important for solving the worlds issues. He also said that we need to collaborate to solve all these problems challenge our views on wealth and possessions and learn to share.
“If we fail then the forces that contributed to Brexit, the envy and isolationism not just in the UK but around the world that spring from not sharing, of cultures driven by a narrow definition of wealth and a failure to divide it more fairly, both within nations and across national borders, will strengthen,” Hawking said. “If that were to happen, I would not be optimistic about the long-term outlook for our species.”
He ended the piece by saying that we must broaden our definition of wealth to include knowledge, natural resources, and human capacity and learn to share each of those things. “If we do this, then there is no limit to what humans can achieve together,” he said.
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