Watch Stephen Hawking speak at 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony

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Stephen Hawking, the renowned British theoretical physicist, died at age 76 on Wednesday.

Hawking owed one part of his fame to his triumph over amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative disease that eats away at the nervous system. When he was diagnosed aged only 21, he was given only a few years to live.

But Hawking defied the normally fatal illness for more than 50 years, pursuing a brilliant career that stunned doctors and thrilled his fans. Even though a severe attack of pneumonia left him breathing through a tube, an electronic voice synthesizer allowed him to continue speaking, albeit in a robotic monotone that became one of his trademarks.

Hawking received loud applause when he appeared at the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony and delivered these words:

“The Paralympic Games is also about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.

The Games provide an opportunity for athletes to excel, to stretch themselves and become outstanding in their field. So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship and respect. Good luck to you all.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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