"We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years," Hawking's children said in a statement. "His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him for ever," the statement added.
Hawking is survived by three children -- Robert, Lucy and Timothy -- from his first marriage to Jane Wilde, and three grandchildren.
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Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England. 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 Guardian newspaper said.
Hawking's doctors gave him nearly two years to live but he defied the medical history and survived for decades. For the rest of his life, the physicist used a wheelchair to move around and a speech synthesizer that allowed him to speak in a computerized voice with an American accent.
For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease ignited a fresh sense of purpose. "Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research. My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all," Hawking added.
With fellow physicist Roger Penrose, Hawking merged Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum theory, suggesting that space and time began with Big Bang and end in black holes. In 1974, Hawking proposed what is known as his most significant theory that black holes can emit sub-atomic particles. Published for the first time in 1988, A Brief History of Time stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. It sold 10 million copies and was translated into 40 different languages. Hailed as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein, Professor Hawking never won a Nobel Prize.
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The physicist's inspiring story gave birth to the 2014 movie The Theory of Everything, which was based on a memoir by Hawking's first wife Wilde. Actor Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Hawking in the film won him an Oscar for Best Actor.