Have fun among the stars, Obama leads tributes to Stephen Hawking

Former US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to Professor Stephen Hawking - who he once awarded America's highest civilian honour.

Mr Obama wrote: "Have fun out there among the stars" alongside a photo of himself speaking with Prof Hawking at the White House.

In 2009, the then-US president awarded the physicist the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony.

Prof Hawking's ex-wife, Jane Hawking - who was married to the physicist for 30 years, also paid tribute, saying she was "deeply saddened" by the death of "our dear Stephen".

She added: "I am glad to be able to say that he died peacefully in the comfort of his own home.

"The peace that he has found is well earned after such an extraordinary and courageous life, but we shall feel his loss keenly for a long time."

Earlier Benedict Cumberbatch - who played Prof Hawking on-screen - calling the physicist "a true inspiration for me and for millions".

Cumberbatch, 41, starred as Prof Hawking in the first portrayal of the scientist on-screen, before Eddie Redmayne took on the role in The Theory of Everything.

The actor, who played Prof Hawking in the TV film, Hawking, in 2004, said he was "so sad to hear that Stephen has died" and that he will raise a margarita, which they once shared together, "to the stars".

"I feel so lucky to have known such a truly great man who's profundity was found both in his work and the communication of that work. Both in person and in books.

Eddie Redmayne and Professor Stephen Hawking (PA)
Eddie Redmayne and Professor Stephen Hawking (PA)

"He virtually created the publishing genre of popular science. A heroic feat to bring the wondrous complexities of the universe to all outside of specialists in this field," he said in a statement.

"But truly courageous when considering it was achieved by a man who lived a life trapped in his body from the age of 21 when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease."

Cumberbatch added: "His support of the sciences, art, education and the NHS and charities such as the MND foundation will also live on, as will his wickedly funny sense of humour.

"I will miss our margaritas but will raise one to the stars to celebrate your life and the light of understanding you shone so brightly on them for the rest of us. You were and are a true inspiration for me and for millions around the world. Thank you."

Fellow actor Redmayne called the physicist, who died aged 76, "the funniest man" he has ever met.

The actor, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Prof Hawking in 2014 film The Theory Of Everything, said in a statement: "We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

"My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family."

The film's writer Anthony McCarten and director James Marsh also offered tributes, with the former calling Prof Hawking a "molecular miracle".

He added: "It was one of the great honours of my life to have met him, spent some time with him, and been his cinematic biographer."

Marsh said: "His endurance, his bravery and his productivity were humbling and remarkable. Above all, he was unique in every way."

Prime Minister Theresa May was among others paying tribute to Prof Hawking.

She said: "Professor Stephen Hawking was a brilliant and extraordinary mind - one of the great scientists of his generation.

"His courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration. His legacy will not be forgotten."

Scientist and broadcaster Professor Brian Cox told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Prof Hawking was "one of the greats".

"There are many good theoretical physicists who make a big contribution, but there aren't that many greats," he added.

"And by that I mean that I think there are physicists in a thousand years' time, they will still be talking about Hawking radiation, they will be using his fundamental results on black holes.

"Actually, the last time I saw him at his 75th birthday party, he was talking about the new gravitational wave experiment where we've seen the collisions of black holes, and speculating that those results might be able to prove some of his theorems once and for all.

"Plus his contributions to the physics of the very early universe, so there are at least three and possibly more areas where his work will be remembered as long as there are cosmologists and that's the best you can hope for as a scientist."

Inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, tweeted: "We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking."

Physicist James Hartle, whose work with Prof Hawking led to the Hartle-Hawking model of the universe's origins, said his colleague had "inspired a lot of people".

Prof Hartle told BBC Radio 4's Today: "What was unique about him was that he had a marvellous ability to see through all the clutter in physics and to see what the essential points are and that, of course, was a great thing for going forward."

European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted: "'It matters if you just don't give up.' Remembering Stephen Hawking."

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said Prof Hawking had "made the world a better place" and his death was "anguishing".

"Professor Stephen Hawking was an outstanding scientist and academic. His grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world," a tweet on his page said.

Nasa described Prof Hawking as an "ambassador of science", adding in a tweet: "His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring.

"May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014."

Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014 pic.twitter.com/FeR4fd2zZ5

-- NASA (@NASA) March 14, 2018

Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May said on Instagram that Prof Hawking was "one of the bravest men I ever met - optimistic and caring."

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