Physicist Stephen Hawking, known for his pioneering brilliance, died today at the age of 76. He is best known for his work on black holes and theoretical physics, but he also made many pop cultural appearances in films, TV shows, books, and comics. Hawking has been referenced and made direct appearances in shows like The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory as well as the X-Men comics, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Doctor Who.
Most famously, Hawking made multiple appearances in The Simpsons. In one scene in the season 10 episode “They Saved Lisa’s Brain,” Homer has a beer with Hawking at Moe’s Tavern. “Your theory of a donut-shaped universe is intriguing, Homer,” Hawking quips. “I may have to steal it.” He was featured in an MC battle with the band Flight of the Conchords in another episode, complete with an E=mc2 neck chain. Hawking has called The Simpsons “the best thing on American television,” stating that “almost as many people know me through The Simpsons as through my science.”
The Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman paid tribute to Hawking on Twitter:
Hawking also showed up on Futurama, where main character Fry falsely believes him to have invented gravity — to which Hawking replies, “Sure, why not?” In an appearance on The Big Bang Theory, Hawking noted an arithmetic mistake in Sheldon’s paper, and he played poker with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton on the Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
He was also interviewed by John Oliver who asked, “You’ve stated that there could be an infinite number of parallel universes. Does that mean there’s a universe out there where I am smarter than you?” To which Hawking offers a savage burn: “Yes. And also a universe where you’re funny.”
Multiple actors have portrayed the late physicist on-screen, including Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, for which Redmayne won an Oscar, and Benedict Cumberbatch in Hawking. He was also astute in his observations about matters important to the hearts of teenage girls (and boys). When he appeared in holographic form at the Sydney Opera House in 2015, streamed from Cambridge, he told the audience; “One day there may well be proof of multiple universes… and in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction.”
Hawking’s brilliance and ability to poke fun at himself was rare in someone of his caliber and standing, and it’s part of what has made him hugely popular with so many. His appearances across films, TV shows, and other mediums prove that he wasn’t only a brilliant physicist, but also a pop culture icon who will be sorely missed.