The universe loses its great mind

Don Felipe speaks with  Hawking.
Don Felipe speaks with Hawking. / R. C.
  • The world's most famous scientist visited Spain a number of times, most notably to receive a Príncipe de Asturias award in 1989

  • Visionary physicist Stephen Hawking died on Wednesday, aged 76

Stephen Hawking was only 21 when, in 1963, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and told by doctors that he two years left to live at most. “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21,” he famously said. “Everything since then has been a bonus.”

The man who is perhaps Hawking's closest friend in Spain's scientific community was Rafael Rebolo, director of the Astrophysics Institute of the Canaries (IAC). He learned of Hawking's death, at the age of 76, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

He met with him twice, most recently in 2016 when he named Hawking an honorary professor, and was moved to write a letter of condolence to Trinity College, Cambridge. Rebolo had a great deal of respect for the late scientist: “He taught me how to live in spite of difficulty. He had an immense curiosity, he always wanted to know more and better understand the secrets of the universe. I think that's what kept him alive for so long. It's a lesson for us all.”

He added: “It's unlikely that we'll fully understand how important Hawking's legacy was in our lifetimes. Many of his theories are yet to be proven; all we can say about them is that they are groundbreaking. It took over a century for example for Einstein's theory about gravitational waves to be verified. That's why Stephen never won the Nobel Prize during his lifetime.”

A collection of awards

Stephen Hawking was however awarded the Príncipe de Asturias Award for Concord in 1989, by a young Felipe de Borbón, now King Felipe VI, “for his important investigative work about the fundamentals of time and space”.

He was a member of the world's most eminent scientific communities, a honorary doctor at many of the world's most prestigious universities and he received some of the highest awards, including an Order of the British Empire medal (OBE). He also became one of the best-known scientists in the world, appearing in film, TV series and sitcoms.


High-profile Spanish figures have joined the world in mourning the loss of one of its greatest minds. Pedro Sánchez, leader of the PSOE party, said: “Funding science is the best tribute to his legacy.” Roberto Emparan, a Spanish quantative physicist also praised his legacy, saying: “He has taught us that the future isn't written and it can be changed.” Teresa Sanjurjo of the Princess of Asturias Foundation said that “He was a wise man and an example of the strength of the human spirit.” The Partido Popular (PP) also released a statement: “He revolutionised physics and he explained it to us in a more understandable way.”