The ashes of Stephen Hawking were buried Friday in a corner of Westminster Abbey that honors some of Britain’s greatest scientists, between the graves of Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton.
More than 1,000 people attended a service of thanksgiving in the ancient abbey for the physicist, who died in March at age 76 after decades of living with motor neuron disease. When he was diagnosed, aged 22, he was given only a few years to live.
Hawking conducted groundbreaking research into black holes and the origins of the universe, and gained global fame as a popularizer and communicator of science. His book “A Brief History of Time” sold 9 million copies — even if many readers didn’t finish it — and he appeared on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” ”The Big Bang Theory” and “The Simpsons.”
“His name will live in the annals of science,” Astronomer Royal Martin Rees told the memorial service. “Nobody else since Einstein has done more to deepen our understanding of space and time.
“Millions have had their horizons widened by his books and lectures, and even more worldwide have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds,” Rees said.
Hawking’s first wife Jane and daughter Lucy were among an eclectic crowd that included scientists and schoolchildren; politicians including U.K. Culture Secretary Matt Hancock and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn; Chic guitarist Nile Rogers; actress Lily Cole; comedian David Walliams; and talk-show host Piers Morgan.
Guests also included 1,000 members of the public selected by ballot from 25,000 applicants. A private funeral service was held in March in Cambridge, where Hawking lived and worked for decades.
The service included biblical readings by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in a BBC drama, and Hawking’s daughter Lucy. Astronaut Tim Peake read from “Queen Mab” by poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, which evokes the wonders of the universe.
Kip Thorne, a Nobel prize-winning American physicist, paid tribute to “by far the most stubborn friend I ever had.
“He absolutely refused to let his physical disability get in the way of doing great science or get in the way of having great fun,” Thorne said.
The 900-year-old abbey is the resting place of a pantheon of British historical figures, including kings and queens, political leaders and writers including Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens.
Hawking was interred in the abbey’s Scientists’ Corner, beneath a stone inscribed: “Here lies what was mortal of Stephen Hawking” — an English translation of the Latin words on the nearby grave of Newton, the 17th-century scientist who discovered the laws of gravity. The stone is also inscribed with one of Hawking’s equations describing the entropy of a black hole.
After the service, Hawking’s words, set to music by Greek composer Vangelis, were being beamed into space from a European Space Agency satellite dish in Spain. Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, said the music would be aimed at “the nearest black hole, 1A 0620-00,” more than 3,000 light years from Earth.