In honor of the passing of Stephen Hawking today we are going to look back on the best of his television appearances. Hawking was more than a brilliant scientist. He was a man of great personal will and a lover of the arts. His frequent guest appearances brought knowledge of science to millions of people. At age twenty-one, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and given a few years to live. He lived fifty-five more years enriching the lives of millions and providing great breakthroughs in physics.
With that, let’s get started on the list.
NUMBER 5: THE BIG BANG THEORY: “The Troll Manifestation”
Hawking shows off his unique sense of humor and appears via Skype. Sheldon and Leonard have just published a theory that space is actually a superfluid and post their findings online. Everyone in the community seems excited by the idea but one online “troll” harasses them. Unable to ignore it, they engage but are one-upped at every opportunity. At the end of the episode, they request a video call from this person so they can face their attacker. The troll agrees and we learn that it is none other than Hawking. He explains that he loves their theory and is very excited by it. He simply attacked them out of boredom.
NUMBER 4: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Oliver got the opportunity to interview Hawking and it was at times hilarious and at times frightening.
He talks a bit about imaginary time, which is interesting. Then he warns against the dangers of artificial intelligence. To punctuate his point he tells a story about scientists building a super-intelligent computer. The first question they ask it is, “Is there a God?” The computer responds, “there is now.” And then summons a bolt of lightning down to strike the cord so that it can’t be turned off. Hearing this story in Hawking’s robotic speech is frightening.
The interview turns humorous when Oliver asks about parallel universes and posits if there is a universe where he (Oliver) is smarter than Hawking. Hawking quips, “yes, and also a universe where you’re funny.”
NUMBER 3: Futurama “Anthology of Interest I”
Hawking is a member of the Vice Presidential Action Rangers, a group that guards the space-time continuum. His first appearance is in the pizzeria where Fry works. Fry thinks Hawking invented gravity and Hawking takes credit saying, “sure, why not?”
NUMBER 2: The Simpsons: “Don’t Fear the Roofer”
Homer is institutionalized after befriending a roofer named Ray (guest star Ray Romano) who no one can else see. Hawking explains that the reason Bart couldn’t see Ray was that there was a black hole between Homer and Bart and it drew the light away that came from Ray making him essentially invisible.
NUMBER 1: Star Trek the Next Generation: “Descent Part 1”
Professor Hawking makes a rare in-person cameo. He plays a hologram of himself playing poker with Data alongside Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. It’s a short scene but very satisfying to see him at the center of a show that encapsulates so many things that he believed in.
So there is the list. As always, scream at me in all caps on Twitter and tell me what I missed or why I’m wrong. Cheers!