'Star Trek' to 'Simpsons,' Hawking was a pop culture physicist

Late scientist Stephen Hawking punched out Bart Simpson's principal and played his own hologram on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
3 min read

Theoretical physicist and enormous pop culture celebrity? Only Stephen Hawking , whose death at age 76 was announced Tuesday, could swing both of those titles.

Despite the fact that few people outside the realm of science understood what Hawking really did for a living, he became a beloved figure in the entertainment world. His wheelchair and robotic-sounding computer voice made him instantly recognizable, whether in cartoon form or being portrayed by handsome actor Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar playing Hawking in 2014's "The Theory of Everything."

Here's a look at some of the times when the scientist hit the big (and little) screen.

'The Simpsons': Forever a fan

Hawking was such a fan of "The Simpsons" he allowed the animated Fox show to feature him during four separate appearances, and called it "the best thing on American television." 

He also knew it brought him and his big brain to a new audience, saying, "Almost as many people know me from 'The Simpsons' as through my science."

Hawking admitted he didn't have all the gadgets the show built into his cartoon version's wheelchair, but noted that "I hope I wouldn't use the boxing glove" -- which he used to punch Principal Skinner -- "although sometimes I'm sorely tempted."

'The Theory of Everything': Hello, Oscar

Eddie Redmayne (now of "Fantastic Beasts" fame) portrayed Hawking in 2014's "The Theory of Everything," which won Redmayne an acting Oscar. The film was adapted from "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen," a memoir by Hawking's first wife, Jane. It was one of the few times Hawking's romantic life and years as a young man were portrayed.

It was also where many heard Hawking's inspiring quote: "There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope."

Inventing gravity on 'Futurama'

It made sense for Hawking to show up on a show about the future, so "Futurama" welcomed the scientist. He was animated as himself several times on the show, which like "The Simpsons" was created by Matt Groening. But even in "Futurama," not everyone knew what he did, and he had to put up with being asked if he was "the inventor of gravity." Yeah, sure, why not?

And as "Futurama" fans know, life as a disembodied head is just part of the deal.

'Star Trek': To boldly go

Hawking would seem a natural " Star Trek " fan, with all his nerdy knowledge. And he appeared on the season 6 finale of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," in some pretty prestigious company. Hawking, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton were all seen as holograms playing poker with android Lt. Commander Data.

It's all in good fun, as Hawking and the other geniuses lord their scientific knowledge over each other and Einstein learned that Hawking, of all people, is always holding the right cards.

Really 'Big Bang'

Gigantic nerd Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) made big brains cool again on the sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," and naturally matched wits with Hawking. The scientist appeared as himself in 2012 and in later episodes just as his voice.

When Sheldon finally meets Stephen, the scientist pulls out a version of the famed Han Solo line, responding to Sheldon slathering him with praise by saying simply, "I know." 

But then Hawking points out that Sheldon made a simple math error, and it's all over but the fainting as far as Dr. Cooper is concerned.

These aren't Hawking's only pop culture placements. His voice can be heard in the Pink Floyd song "Keep Talking," and at a 2014 "Monty Python Live" show, he was shown in a video running down fellow physicist Brian Cox with his wheelchair before singing the Monty Python tune "Galaxy Song."

In short, you didn't have to know science to know Stephen.

Stephen Hawking’s brilliance in 9 quotes

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