He was a genius physicist who made the basics of a complicated science understandable to the masses. On Saturday, he was laid to rest in Cambridge, with hundreds of people lining the streets to pay their respects.
Some 500 family and friends attended the funeral Saturday of the renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking.
Even though Hawking, who died March 14 at the age of 76, was an atheist, his children chose to have the funeral at a Cambridge University church — St. Mary the Great. Hundreds of people lined the streets of Cambridge, breaking into applause as the hearse went by.
His children Lucy, Robert and Tim explained their decision, saying, "Our father's life and work meant many things to many people, both religious and non-religious. So, the service will be both inclusive and traditional, reflecting the breadth and diversity of his life."
The funeral service was held a short distance from Gonville and Caius College where Hawking worked for more than 50 years.
A private reception followed at nearby Trinity College.
Eulogies were delivered by Robert Hawking, the physicist's eldest child, and Professor Fay Dowker, one of Hawking's former students.
An arrangement of white lilies, representing the universe, and white "Polar Star" roses were placed on his solid oak coffin. The church bell rang 76 times — one for each year of his life.
Actor Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Hawking in the 2014 biographical drama "The Theory of Everything," was among those who spoke.
Hawking's ashes will be interred in Westminster Abbey on June 15, alongside other historical giants of the scientific community, including Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
Since Hawking's death tributes have poured in from around the world, including from Queen Elizabeth II and NASA, reflecting the far-ranging impact and inspiration the physicist had on people.
Before the funeral Gonville and Caius College released new black and white photos showing Hawking at a summer school program for young astrophysicists in southern England in 1961, when Hawking was 19.
Explaining physics to the masses
In other photos he is seen playing croquet and in a sailing dinghy, two years before he began experiencing the first symptoms of amyotrophic lateral clerosis, or ALS, an incurable motor neuron disease that left him in a wheelchair and almost completely paralyzed. Eventually he also needed to use a speech synthesizer to speak.
But Hawking's illness did not dull his mind, and he went on to become one of the world's best-known and most inspiring scientists. He will be remembered for his brilliance and his wit. His 1988 book, "A Brief History in Time," an explainer of physics' for the general public became an international best seller, with more than 10 million copies sold.
His work focused on bringing together relativity — the nature of space and time — and quantum theory — how the smallest particles behave — to explain the creation of the universe and how it is governed.
Some of his university classmates recalled his left-wing views and his mischievous sense of humor.
Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, a personal friend of Hawking's, read from Plato's Apology 40, "The Death of Socrates," which talks of the search for knowledge persisting after death.
He told the mourners: "Why did (Hawking) become such a 'cult figure'? The concept of an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos plainly grabbed people's imagination."
bik/ng (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)