Stephen Hawking, who died in his Cambridge, England home at the age of 76 on Wednesday, never expected to live this long. The world-renowned theoretical physicist, who was known for his work in the fields of fields of cosmology, general relativity and quantum gravity, had lived with a rare form of motor neuron disease since he was 21 years old. The scientist and Director of Research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, has faced the possibility of an early death for more than 50 years, but was not afraid to die, and he made that very clear in interviews throughout his life.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2011, Hawking told writer Ian Sample that the fear of death wasn’t something he considered.
“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years,” he said. “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
Hawking spent the majority of his time as a scientist focused on a set of equations known as the “theory of everything,” which he described as “the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we should know the mind of God.” But for all of his talk of God, Hawking regarded the deity as only a metaphor; he rejected the notion of an afterlife, per the Guardian interview. Instead, he said that people should live for the now and “seek the greatest value of our action.”
When he turned 75 in January of last year, Hawking shared his surprise that he had made it that far in life and left us with a quote about black holes that might as well serve as an encouraging metaphor for life in the political darkness that is 2018.
“I never expected to reach 75, so I feel very fortunate to be able to reflect on my legacy,” he said. “I think my greatest achievement will be my discovery that black holes are not entirely black.”