Professor Hawking has spent his career grappling with the biggest questions facing humanity: Why are we here? How did life begin? Can we travel through time?
They have challenged our greatest thinkers for thousands for years and he has done more than any other to answer them.
And he has done it while in the cruel grip of the most debilitating disease any of us could ever suffer.
He is not just one of history’s most important scientists. As a man, he has inspired millions all over the world with his extraordinary refusal to let his condition dictate the terms by which he lives his life.
In 1963, shortly after his 21st birthday, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and given two years to live.
As his body began to fail him, cruelly robbing him of the simple things we all take for granted, his astonishing mind grappled with the laws that govern the universe – exploring time, space, black holes and the Big Bang theory.
The prospect of an early death inspired him to push himself further than ever before. “Before my condition was diagnosed, I had been very bored with life,” he says.
“There had not seemed to be anything worth doing. But shortly after I came out of the hospital, I dreamed that I was going to be executed.
“I suddenly realised that there were a lot of worthwhile things I could do if I was reprieved.
“Another dream I had several times was that I would sacrifice my life to save others. After all, if I was going to die anyway, I might as well do some good.”
Despite the relentless progress of his disease – today, at 74, he can move only one muscle in his cheek and is totally reliant on a wheelchair and voice synthesiser – a series of breakthroughs followed, including his black hole theory.
One theory he championed 40 years ago, that gravity comes in waves, was widely accepted by the scientific community only earlier this year.
But his achievements are not confined to lecture theatres or science labs.
He has conveyed his boundless passion and enthusiasm for the universe to all of us with wit, wisdom and humanity.
His landmark book A Brief History of Time sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 40 languages.
His stellar career and full and happy life 50 years after his devastating diagnosis are the most potent symbols imaginable of the power of the human spirit.
Pride of Britain is about recognising people who inspire us all and Professor Stephen Hawking has done that right across the boardPride of Britain judges