Iron Man

/ by Nikhil Swaminathan /

Turned to steel in the great magnetic field, Stephen Hawking has traveled time for the future of mankind

wari.jpg The resilient Stephen Hawking: Photo courtesy of Bantam. Medal added by Maggie Wittlin

On October 14, 1912, during a campaign stop in Milwaukee, a would-be assasin took a single shot at then colonel Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s speech, which was written on a thick stack of note cards, saved his life by slowing the bullet, which merely lodged in his chest. Incredibly, he did not allow the wound to stop his address.

Teddy Roosevelt was a Rough Rider, tough as nails and hell bent on following through. But compared to Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking, he was a dandy. Roosevelt may have stared down death and won, but Stephen Hawking was outright dead, at least technically, on Monday, November 14th. 

According to a report on MSNBC.com, during a stop in San Francisco on his West Coast lecture tour, Hawking had to be resuscitated after being taken off his respirator.

Terry Bristol, whose organization, the Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, was to sponsor his appearance in Seattle the following Wednesday, told MSNBC.com that Hawking “basically flat-lined.” Bristol also pointed out that this has happened before.

That’s not surprising, considering the medical condition Hawking has been living with for over 40 years.

At the age of 21, in 1963, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease that has left him a quadriplegic; he is unable to speak or breathe without a respirator. Despite his debilitating fate, he is arguably the world’s most famous scientist, the author of the definitive popular book on cosmology, A Brief History of Time. This fall, he released a new edition of the book that is “clearer and more leisurely,” titled, appropriately, A Briefer History of Time

Recently, Hawking has been back in the scientific forefront, revising a theory he developed in the mid-70s that characterized black holes as cosmic vacuums that suck up information and then disappear. Last summer, he unveiled a new proof that knowledge can, in fact, survive encounters with black holes.

Just as Hawking has pointed out that matter can escape black holes, he has demonstrated multiple times that man can elude his own mortality.

Last week, Hawking put one foot into the black hole of the after-life, and thought better of it. When he regained consciousness, he insisted on getting right back onto the lecture circuit. His entourage, on the other hand, wasn’t in to him traveling to Seattle, so he delivered his talk on Wednesday via satellite.

Hey Teddy, you were one tough SOB; Stephen Hawking is an iron man.

Originally published November 22, 2005

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