Stephen Hawking, the visionary physicist who died at his home on Wednesday at age 76, was world-renowned for his contributions to astrophysics and cosmology. Yet, the professor—who was diagnosed with motor neurons disease in 1963 and only given a few years to live—once admitted that, aside from the universe, the subject of women was something he thought about daily.
Having been part of two love triangles and two divorces, Hawking led an intriguing love life. His first marriage to Jane Wilde in 1965—which was the focus of the 2014 film, The Theory of Everything—began just a few years after Hawking was diagnosed with the disease when he was a grad student at Cambridge University in England. Two years later, the couple welcomed their first child together, Robert, followed by daughter, Lucy, in 1970 and son, Timothy, in 1979.
After completing a year-long residency in 1975 at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, Hawking and Jane moved back to England, but the pressures of raising their family and caretaking for Hawking had begun to take a toll on Jane, even leading her to consider suicide, she later told The Telegraph.
With the help of a grad student and a secretary to care for the A Brief History of Time author, Jane was able to focus more on her own interests, which included singing, according to The Guardian. This led her to meet Jonathan Hellyer Jones, a musician who ran the choir at the church where she performed. Things got complicated from there.
“The truth was, there were four partners in our marriage,” Jane told The Guardian in 2015. “Stephen and me, motor neurone disease and physics. If you took out motor neurone disease, you are still left with physics. Mrs. Einstein, you know, cited physics as a difference for her divorce …”
Jane and Jones quickly formed a bond, and he routinely spent time with Hawking and the couple’s children. As Hawking increasingly became engulfed in his scientific work and became an international celebrity, Jane developed romantic feelings for Jones, who eventually moved into the family’s home, according to The Mirror. Despite their feelings, Jane said the two remained platonic for many years.
In the 1980s, Hawking began to develop feelings for one of his caretakers, Elaine Mason, who was then married to David Mason, an engineer who helped to create Hawking’s speech synthesizer. Mason soon divorced her husband—with whom she had two children—and by 1990, Hawking left the home he shared with Jane and moved in with Mason.
In 1995, Hawking finalized his divorce and married his nurse by the end of the year. Jane married Jones just two years later.
During the couple’s 11-year marriage, Mason was investigated by Hawking’s family for alleged physical and emotional abuse. Hawking denied any abuse took place, though, according to The Sun, he was reportedly taken to a hospital in 2000 with “cuts and bruises” he couldn’t explain. The couple divorced in 2006.
Fortunately, Hawking seemed to embrace the bachelor lifestyle. He was reportedly seen at strip clubs with a team of nurses and assistants over the years.
Just hours after Hawking’s death was announced, English nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow posted a picture of himself with Hawking, reportedly taken at his gentlemen’s club, Stringfellows, in the early 2000s.
Recalling a run-in with Hawking, Stringfellow told the Mirror in 2012 that the physicist couldn’t be bothered to talk about black holes or string theory when he was out.
“I went and introduced myself and said, ‘Mr. Hawking, it’s an honor to meet you. If you could spare a minute or two, I’d love to chat with you about the universe,’” Stringfellow said he told Hawking. “Then I paused for a bit and joked, ‘Or would you rather look at the girls?’ ”
“There was silence for a moment, and then he answered: ‘The girls.’ ”
But for those who knew him best, his fascination with the opposite sex would come as no surprise. In an interview with the New Scientist in 2012, Hawking admitted that he spent much of his days pondering one subject in particular.
“Women,” Hawking said. “They are a complete mystery.”
Hawking’s death on Wednesday resonated around the world, and his former wife, Jane, released a statement along with their children.
“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” the statement read. “He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”
The family added: “His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world… He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”