Jane - Hawking's life support: A new documentary on the cosmologist reveals his gratitude to his first wife


Stephen Hawking, the world's most famous living scientist, has paid a remarkable tribute to his first wife, who is the unwitting star of a new documentary on the life on the cosmologist to be released next month.

Jane Hawking, who was involved in an acrimonious divorce from her husband in 1991 after 26 years of marriage, is given a leading part in the film, co-written by Hawking, to describe the difficulties of living with a proud and independent man who suffers a long, debilitating illness.

The film highlights the role played by Jane in saving Hawking from a deep depression when he was first diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 and her refusal to allow doctors to turn off his life-support machine in 1985 after a near-lethal attack of pneumonia while on a visit to Switzerland.

Perhaps for the first time, with Hawking's tacit approval, Jane is able to explain publicly how it felt to be the woman behind the man whose brilliant mind is trapped within a paralysed body.

While bringing up three small children, Jane had to take on the onerous tasks of caring for her increasingly crippled husband who for many years had refused any outside nursing help, expecting his wife to care for him by herself.

At the same time, his global fame began to increase, especially after the publication of his bestselling book A Brief History of Time, in 1988, which went on to sell 10 million copies worldwide. "We were under scrutiny when Stephen became rich and famous. The media were in the house and camera leads were absolutely everywhere – it was just nightmarish," Jane said when her own book of their life together was republished in 2007.

"I was expected to say, 'Isn't the way we live beautiful?', 'Aren't we lucky?', 'Look how well we've coped', when that wasn't the truth at all. It was a desperate struggle to survive day to day," she said.

The strains in their relationship began to show and it culminated in separation and divorce. In 1995, Hawking married one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, whom he divorced in 2006.

In the documentary Hawking, directed by Stephen Finnigan, the cosmologist pays fulsome tribute to his first wife, saying it was his love for her – and hers for him – that brought him out of a Wagnerian depression after his initial diagnosis.

The second crucial moment of support came in 1985 when Jane refused to allow Swiss doctors to turn off her husband's life support.

Although Stephen and Jane remained angry with one another for many years, the documentary shows there has been a remarkable reconciliation.

'Hawking' premieres at the Cambridge Film Festival on 19 September and is available to own on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download from 23 September

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back