File photo taken on April 16, 2013 shows British physicist Stephen Hawking attending an activity at California Institute of Technology, the United States. Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking has died at age 76, a family spokesman said on March 14, 2018. The professor died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Cambridge, the spokesman said. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)
LONDON, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking died peacefully at home in the British university city of Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday at the age of 76, his family spokesman said.
"We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today," his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement.
"He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years," his family said. "His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world ... We will miss him forever."
Tributes have poured in following the announcement of Hawking's death. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Hawking was a "brilliant and extraordinary mind -- one of the greatest scientists of his generation."
"His courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration...His legacy will not be forgotten," she added.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, said "We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking."
Professor Stephen Toope, vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge, described Hawking as a "unique individual" who would be remembered with "warmth and affection."
"His exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy. His character was an inspiration to millions," he said.
Meanwhile, NASA tweeted "Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we and the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity."
Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak said "Stephen Hawking's integrity and scientific dedication placed him above pure brilliance."
Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella said "We lost a great one today. Stephen Hawking will be remembered for his incredible contributions to science -- making complex theories and concepts more accessible to the masses."
Hawking, a legendary figure in the modern history of physics, is known for his work with black holes and relativity, and has authored several best-sellers on science, despite being bound to wheelchair after contracting a motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21.
He broke new ground on the basic laws which govern the universe, including the revelation that black holes have a temperature and produce radiation, now known as Hawking radiation.
At the same time, he also sought to explain many of these complex scientific ideas to a wider audience through popular books, most notably his bestseller A Brief History of Time, according to an obituary posted on the University of Cambridge's website.
Professor Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009, after which he worked as director of research at the Cambridge University Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics until his death.
Professor Hawking once wrote on his website that he had had motor neurone disease for practically all his adult life, which did not prevent him from having a very attractive family and being successful in his work.
"I have been lucky that my condition has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But it shows that one need not lose hope," said Professor Hawking, who, with his fierce intellect coupled with his illness, came to symbolize the unbounded possibilities of the human mind.
Hawking was born on Jan. 8, 1942 in Oxford, growing up in London and St Albans. Despite the fact that he was always ranked at the lower end of his class by teachers, his school friends nicknamed him "Einstein" which seemed to have encouraged his interest in science.
"Physics and astronomy offered the hope of understanding where we came from and why we are here. I wanted to fathom the depths of the universe," Hawking once said.
The ambition brought him a scholarship to study physics in Oxford, where he graduated with a first-class honors degree before going to the University of Cambridge as a PhD student of cosmology.
Hawking's influential books included The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime, with George Ellis; Superspace and Supergravity, with M. Rocek (1981); The Very Early Universe, with G. Gibbons and S. Siklos; and General Relativity: an Einstein centenary survey as well as 300 Years of Gravitation, with W. Israel.
However, it was his popular science book A Brief History of Time that took Hawking beyond the academic world and made him a household name. The book was published in 1988 and became a surprise bestseller, remaining on the Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.
A film called The Theory of Everything was released in 2014, telling the story of Hawking and his first wife Jane based on her book. The film was met with worldwide acclaim and Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking, won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Actor.
At his 75th birthday celebration, Hawking said "It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics. Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years, and I'm happy if I've made a small contribution."
"So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet ... Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up," he said.