Known the world over for his acclaimed book "A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes", Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - a progressive neuro-degenerative disease - in 1963 at age 21.
The best-known theoretical physicist of his time, Hawking wrote so lucidly of the mysteries of space, time and black holes that his book, "A Brief History of Time", became an worldwide bestseller, making him one of science's biggest celebrities since Albert Einstein.
Published for the first time in 1988, the title made the Guinness Book of Records after it stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. "Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking", he wrote on Twitter.
Hawking's insights shaped modern cosmology.
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"His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world", the family said. He was able to move only a few fingers on one hand and was completely dependent on others or on technology for virtually everything - bathing, dressing, eating, even speech.
The account garnered one million fans within its first few hours and now has almost five million, with his infrequent posts typically generating tens of thousands of admiring comments and earning him the affectionate nickname "Hawking Dada", or "Uncle Hawking".
Plait described how Hawking discovered how "the most powerful objects in the Universe" black holes "eventually dissolve", and how Hawking lived for another 55 years despite his ALS diagnosis.
"I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many", he wrote on his website.
The famed scientist was married and divorced twice. He and his first wife, Jane Wilde, Wednesday when he was still a grad student and remained together for 30 years before divorcing in 1995.
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In 1974, he became one of the youngest fellows of Britain's most prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, at the age of 32. In an interview with New Scientist magazine, Hawking said there was still one puzzle left for him.
Hawking became a hero to math and science geeks and pop culture figure, guest-starring as himself on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Simpsons".
Beyond scientific debate Hawking also weighed into politics, describing Donald Trump as "a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator" ahead of his election as U.S. president.
"His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake", tweeted Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power underlined Hawking's kind heart in addition to his brilliant mind.
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"This complete set of laws can give us the answers to questions like how did the universe begin", he said.
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