Stephen Hawking’s family describe the first time they heard his new synthesized voice
Stephen Hawking’s family has described the ‘incredible’ moment they first heard his new synthesized voice after they explained
what it was like growing up with one of the world’s most famous scientists as a patriarch in a new documentary.
Professor Hawking had only had a few years to live in his twenties after being diagnosed with motor neuron disease,
which left him paralyzed and only able to communicate via a voice-generating computer.
However, he continued to live with the disease for decades before his death in 2018 at the age of 76 and became world-famous for his best-selling scientific books, including
A Brief History of Time, and for his work as a pioneer of the theories around black holes and relativity.
Hawking in 2016
In the new Sky documentary,
Hawking: Can you hear me? , his children recall what it was like growing up with their father’s physical vulnerability, with his daughter Lucy,
now 51, admitting that family life had been “very difficult” at times.
Hawking’s condition meant his speech deteriorated over time, and he often choked on food or suffered “terrifying” choking attacks.
But after he contracted pneumonia in 1985 during a visit to CERN in Geneva, things got even worse as his illness began to worsen.
paralyzing the muscles of his voice box, in turn blocking his airway so he cannot breathe.
Peddle with his family. Credit: Sky/Hawking Domain
Peddle ended up having an emergency tracheotomy,
which saw doctors create an opening in his neck directly into the trachea, before inserting a tube through which he could breathe.
While he was finally able to breathe again on his own, he ended up losing his speech altogether – with eldest son Robert, 54, saying:
“It meant he no longer had a voice at all. »
Robert’s mother and Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane, add: “The impact was devastating as Stephen had no means of communication. »
Credit: Sky/Jane Hawking
Hawking’s former secretary Judy Fella also recalls what it was like knowing they were “never going to hear her voice again”,
while Lucy calls the time “extremely traumatic”. , saying his father often felt “really frustrated”.
But the family found hope when Hawking was given an electronic speech synthesizer in 1988, which gave him a whole new way to communicate.
Lucy said: “I think it went, ‘Hello, my name is Stephen Hawking,’ and I remember I was like, ‘Woah! Dad, you’re American, it’s amazing. ”
The electronic voice synthesizer enabled Hawking to communicate with speech.
His youngest son Tim, who was only six at the time of his father’s tracheotomy, said:
“It was really the dawn of a sort of golden age for communication with him.
“It just meant we could start a father-son relationship. »
The 42-year-old admitted there were downsides, adding: “Of course, you could say something to him and then you would have to wait five minutes for him to come back with an answer,
which then was a bit embarrassing because you didn’t don’t know how to be in this interim period. ”
However, the family felt grateful for the liberation that this technology gave them.
Lucy, Timothy, Jane, and Stephen Hawking at the UK premiere of The Theory of Everything in 2014. Credit: PA
“For the first time in years, he was free,” Jane said.
“Just as the electric wheelchair gave him freedom of movement, the voice gave him freedom of expression. »
Elsewhere in the documentary, the Hawkings talk about what their father had been like as a parent,
saying he had been incredibly “determined” despite his physical challenges.
Robert says: “My father was sometimes deep in thought on any subject that concerned him – whether scientific or not – and so it was sometimes difficult to get his attention.
“But that, I think, can sometimes be the case for most fathers.
Credit: Sky/Jane Hawking
“He wanted to be involved as a father, but his disability meant he wasn’t involved in some things that he normally would be as a father. ”
Jeanne adds: “He spoke very rarely about his illness,
but when he did, he said that the advantage of his illness was that he could devote himself 100% to his work.
“He didn’t have to change diapers, he didn’t have to make cups of tea, he didn’t have to cook meals, but he could just focus on the physical. ”
Hawking in 1988. Credit: PA
Lucie admits her father’s disability had a huge effect on their childhood, saying one of the most misunderstood things about Hawking was “how much he suffered”.
She says: “By the time I was born, my father had already exceeded his life expectancy.
“I think my dad really loved being a dad, but I think [his] disability affected my childhood a lot.
“It was in the 70s and 80s – disabled access to buildings just wasn’t a thing. There weren’t even any abandoned sidewalks. I mean, it was really hard.
“Your whole day could be disrupted by a flight of stairs – even a few steps could ruin everything you were trying to do.
Lucy Hawking with her father in 2015. Credit: PA
“And so it did things [like] vacations, […] outings, […] all sorts of fun stuff that was unpredictable and subject to being thrown off course by circumstances completely beyond your control. »
Sharing fond memories of games with his father when he was the youngest child, Tim recalls:
“ My father’s attitude towards games was to win at all costs. He was a ruthless competitor.
“However, I was just as determined to try to win, especially in chess.
“Over time it became clear that I was not likely to win at chess or Scrabble. »
He adds with a smile: “It was on the occasion of his 70th birthday that I finally had to admit to him that I had perhaps cheated a few times. »
Hawking: Can you hear me? arrive on Sky Documentaries and NOW on Monday, September 20.