In 2009, Stephen Hawking threw a party replete with expensive Champagne and hors d’oeuvres. The catch? He didn’t send out the invitations until after it had ended. In his documentary Into The Universe, which released a year later, Hawking said he wanted to test whether time travel existed. Since no one made it to his party, he hypothesized that it didn’t.
There are many anecdotes that illustrate the light-hearted nature of one of this generation’s most brilliant minds, but nowhere are his humour and wit more evident than his slew of tongue-in-cheek appearances in television series between 1993 and 2017. Between developing his theory on cosmology and launching a search for extra-terrestrial life, he found the time to chug beers with Homer Simpson, play poker with holograms in Star Trek: The Next Generation and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Sheldon Cooper over Skype. Hawking poked fun at himself, his discoveries and his computerized voice, the result of a speech-generating device he developed after motor-neuron disease gradually paralysed him.
Following news of his death at 76, fans took to social media to reminisce about their favourite cameos of the scientist, with The Simpsons writer and producer Matt Selman calling him “the most intelligent guest star in the brief history” of the show. We list our top four Hawking guest appearances:
The physicist voiced himself in two episodes and a film based on the animated sci-fi series, making light of his monumental scientific breakthroughs. In various appearances, he shoots laser beams from his eyes, takes credit for Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity and teams up with politician Al Gore as part of an elite force assembled to preserve the space-time continuum.
Stephen Hawking: I’ll call it a Hawking Hole.
Fry: No fair, I saw it first.
Stephen Hawking: Who is the London Journal of Physics going to believe?
Hawking made four appearances on the show between 1999 and 2010. In season 22, episode 10 of the series, he brags about his 280 IQ, calls Springfield citizens “more disappointing than his failure to formulate a unified Field Theory” and flies off on a rocket-propelled wheelchair – only to return and tell Homer that he finds his theory of a donut-shaped universe intriguing.
Stephen Hawking: Don’t worry, Lisa. Sometimes the smartest of us can be the most childish.
Lisa Simpson: Even you?
Stephen Hawking: No. Not me. Never
Star Trek: The Next Generation
A self-proclaimed Trekkie, Hawking has the distinction of being the only person to have played himself on the show. In season 6, episode 26, he appears as his holographic counterpart and banters with holograms of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein as they play poker with Lieutenant Commander Data. His cheeky grin at beating Einstein is one of the highlights of the 1993 episode.
Isaac Newton: The day the apple fell on my head was the most momentous day in the history of science.
Stephen Hawking: Not the apple story again.
The Big Bang Theory
The physicist made numerous cameos in the show from season 5 to season 11, with appearances ranging from heart-warming – him dispensing life lessons to characters – to comedic – him calling Sheldon a ‘jackass’ after being the recipient of several drunk voicemails.
Sheldon Cooper: How do you deal with the success of your colleagues?
Stephen Hawking: I remind myself every scientific advancement is a victory. Also, I was on Star Trek.