tv

Remembering Stephen Hawking's Many Contributions to Pop Culture

By Tom Pritchard on at

Early on this morning it was announced that Stephen Hawking, world-famous physicist and Simpsons guest star had died at the age of 76. Hawking had suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for decades, having been first diagnosed at the age of 21 and being initially given two years to live.

A lot of people will remember Hawking for his work as a scientist, controversial as it may have been at times, or the fact that he was featured in biopics played by both Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch. But most none-sciencey people will remember him as the man that kept popping up in their favourite TV shows, often playing an exaggerated version of himself.

The Simpsons

Arguably Hawking's most famous TV role, back in the days when The Simpsons was still considered good - even if the show was beyond its golden years. The 22nd episode of the tenth season saw Lisa join MENSA, and in typical Simpsons style everything goes to hell as all the local members begin arguing amongst themselves. Then Hawking shows up to put them in their place, shortly before revealing he's more Inspector Gadget than physicist.

Hawking would later return to the show for other smaller parts, one where he reveals he lives at Moes and later explains that a miniature Black Hole was responsible for Bart not being able to see Homer's new friend Ray (S16E16), another where he gives up trying to solve a corn maze and flies out (S18E20), and finally a rapping appearance with Lisa and Flight of the Concords (S22E01).

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek has has a lot of interesting guest stars over the years, but almost none of them got to play themselves. Hawking was an exception, appearing inside the holodeck in Data's poker programme alongside Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton in the 26th episode of season six.

In one alternate future Data would also go on to hold the post of  Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, which Hawking held between 1979 and 2009.

Futurama

Hawking also featured in Matt Groening's other, better TV show a number of times in a variety of capacities. The first was an alternate reality where Fry was never frozen, where he was shown to be a regular at Penucci's Pizza - and also part of a secret society dedicated to preserving the space/time continuum alongside Al Gore, Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols, Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax, and the chess-playing computer Deep Blue. He also guest starred as a head in a jar in later episodes, though retained his iconic machine-box voice.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

While not a work of fiction, Hawking did appear on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver for a lengthy interview with John  Oliver as one of history's "smart people". During that time he did a great job at roasting the show's host while also explaining concepts like the multiverse theory and the dangers of AI.

The Big Bang Theory

While not held in quite as much regard as some of the other shows he's been on, Hawking has made a number of appearances on the long-running The Big Bang Theory as himself - often to the sheer delight of Sheldon who can't stop fanboying over his presence.

That's when Hawking isn't making fun of him for losing at Words With Friends.

Pink Floyd

Hawking's simulated voice (sampled from an old BT ad) made two guest appearances in Pink Floyd songs, with samples included in The Divison Bell and its follow-up album The Endless River on the tracks Keep Talking and Talkin Hawkin.

Monty Python

During the Monty Python Live (Mostly) shows from 2014, Hawking took on the task of covering the Galaxy Song - originally sung by Eric Idle in The Meaning of Life. Obviously it was pre-recorded, which is part of the reason why the show was only mostly live:

Little Britain

Not one to shy away from making fun of himself (or other people), Hawking made an appearance in a Little Britain sketch for Comic Relief, taking the role usually given to Matt Lucas's Andy.

Go Compare

If all that wasn't enough, Hawking also used his knowledge of black hole physics to make a funny appearance in an advert for Go Compare. I won't spoil the joke for you, so give it a watch.

He'd be doing us all a favour if that were real life.

The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hawking's latest role was all too recent, joining the cast of BBC Radio 4's The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase - which is based on the sixth book (aka the one not written by Douglas Adams) And Another Thing... He made a cameo appearance in the first episode, which was first broadcast just last week. You can listen to it on BBC iPlayer.


That's just a small glimpse of the things Hawking has done over the years, outside the world of science, and doesn't even touch on his work as an advocate for protecting disabled rights, his many best-selling books, or the many political matters he's supported over the years - including an opposition to NHS privatisation and funding cuts.

Even if he is best known as "that guy from The Simpsons" there was a lot more to his life, and that all deserves to be recognised.