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Thousands gather in Cambridge for Stephen Hawking's funeral

By Susan McFarland
A funeral service for the great physicist Stephen Hawking was held Saturday at University Church of St. Mary the Great, a church near the university where he worked for more than 50 years. Photo by Jagadeesh NV/EPA-EFE
A funeral service for the great physicist Stephen Hawking was held Saturday at University Church of St. Mary the Great, a church near the university where he worked for more than 50 years. Photo by Jagadeesh NV/EPA-EFE

March 31 (UPI) -- Thousands lined the streets in Cambridge Saturday to pay tribute to the great physicist Stephen Hawking.

In his early twenties, the renowned British physicist was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. He died at his Cambridge home March 14 at age 76.

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About 500 people attended the private funeral service for Hawking at University Church of St. Mary the Great, a church near the university where he worked for more than 50 years.

Hawking's expertise in astrophysics and cosmology rose to prominence in 1988 with the publication of A Brief History of Time, a book that sold more than 10 million copies in 35 languages.

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As people aligned the streets waiting for the funeral procession, people shared stories of how much Hawking meant to them. Several people in wheelchairs were in the crowd, talking about how Hawking had been an inspiration. Others said they had heart-felt gratitude for his advocating stem-cell research and environmental concerns.

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking in the 2014 biographical drama and won an Oscar for the role The Theory of Everything, gave a Bible reading from Ecclesiastes during the service.

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Hawking's children said in a statement: "On behalf of our whole family we want to express our huge gratitude to all the wonderful tributes to our father and to those who have sent us messages of condolence.

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"Our father lived and worked in Cambridge for over 50 years. He was an integral and highly recognizable part of the university and the city. For this reason, we have decided to hold his funeral in the city that he loved so much and which loved him.

"Our father's life and work meant many things to many people, both religious and non-religious. So, the service will be both inclusive and traditional, reflecting the breadth and diversity of his life. We would like to thank Gonville and Caius College, the University of Cambridge and Trinity College, Cambridge for their assistance with our father's funeral service."

Oh June 15, Hawking's ashes will be interred close to the remains of Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.

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