Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking admits in a new documentary that in 1985, while he was writing the bestseller “A Brief History of Time,” Swiss doctors offered to turn off his life support machine after he contracted pneumonia.
His wife of 20 years, Jane Wilde, insisted her husband return to Cambridge, England. He eventually recovered and finished his book, which sold 10 million copies. After 28 years, Hawking is arguably the most famous physicist in the world.
Hawking, 71, suffers from a motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Most people die from the illness within five years. When he was diagnosed at age 21, Hawking was given just two years to live.
In 1985, he was in Geneva visiting CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, when he contracted pneumonia. His condition was so serious that he was put into a drug-induced coma.
"The doctors thought I was so far gone that they offered Jane to turn off the machine,” Hawking said. “Jane refused to turn it off. She insisted I be flown back to Cambridge."
When his wife refused to take him off life support, Hawking was given a tracheotomy. What remained of Hawking’s speech was gone forever. He had to have round-the-clock medical care when he returned to his home in England.
"The weeks of intensive care which followed were the darkest of my life,” Hawking admitted.
He believes his illness and fame left Jane, the mother of his three children, in a “black hole” of despair.
He would eventually divorce Jane in 1995 and marry one of the nurses, Elaine Mason, who provided him care in his Cambridge home.
“Because every day could be my last, I have a desire to make the most of every single minute,” Hawking said in the film.
The documentary is scheduled to be released in September along with the publication of his memoirs.