Stephen Hawking's Top 5 Cameos, From 'Star Trek' to 'Big Bang Theory'

Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist who died early Wednesday morning at the age of 76, is a name known well beyond the world's science labs and universities. Children, athletes, stay-at-home parents all across the world know Hawking because he was more than just an award-winning scientist—he was also a beloved figure in the entertainment world. Hawking's wheelchair and his voice synthesizer made him instantly recognizable, and therefore a prime candidate for cameos.

Here are Hawking's best appearances in popular culture over the years.

1. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1993)

Hawking's first TV cameo was on Season 6 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in "Descent," the episode where the android Data (Brent Spiner) feels his first human emotion. The episode features a great scene in which Data plays poker with some of the greatest scientific minds in history: Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and, yes, Stephen Hawking, played by himself. Hawking was a longtime Trekkie, according to original Star Trek star William Shatner, and when the scientist got his tour of the Next Generation set he paused neared the warp engines and quipped, "I'm working on that."

2. Pink Floyd's "Keep Talking," (1994)

Not long after his Star Trek debut, Hawking became something of a rock star. For the Pink Floyd track "Keep Talking," guitarist David Gilmour sampled Hawking's distinctive electronic voice from a commercial Hawking recorded for the British telecommunications company BT Group. (Gilmour later sampled the same commercial for the 2014 song "Talkin' Hawkin.") The guitarist said in a radio interview that Hawking's commercial "nearly made [him] weep" when he saw it, and he considered it "the most powerful piece of television advertising that [he'd] ever seen in [his] life."

3. The Simpsons (1999)

Hawking made a total of four appearances on The Simpsons (the last being in 2010's "Elementary School Musical"), but the most memorable was his first, in "They Saved Lisa's Brain" from Season 10. Sure, it would have been easy to replicate the physicist's artificial speech patterns, but The Simpsons got the real deal to voice Hawking's animated counterpart. And Homer—who has never heard of Stephen Hawking—gives the physicist the idea for a donut-shaped universe theory over beers.

4. Futurama (2008)

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Stephen Hawking voiced 'Stephen Hawking's Head' for 'Futurama.' IGN

Simpsons creator Matt Groening must have enjoyed working with Hawking, because he called on the scientist to contribute to his other show, Futurama, too. Twice. Hawking's first Futurama appearance came in the 2000 episode "Anthology of Interest I," with the next occurring more than a decade later in 2011's "Reincarnation." But his best Futurama cameo comes in a non-canonical 2008 video, "Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs." Hawking voices himself as a disembodied head of Stephen Hawking in a jar—who also shoots lasers out of his eyes. It's delightful. (Hawking later reprised this role for the 2017 Futurama video game, Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow.)

5. The Big Bang Theory (2012)

Hawking appeared on the popular CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory as himself seven times (including voice-overs), the last being in 2017. (Does that make him more a recurring guest star?) The best appearance is probably still the first, in the 2012 episode "The Hawking Excitation," when Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) finally gets to meet the hero he so admires. The best part of this scene? You can see Hawking smile when Sheldon faints and falls to the floor. Even great minds can't resist Parsons's charm.

Stephen Hawking's Top 5 Cameos, From 'Star Trek' to 'Big Bang Theory' | Culture