Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and bestselling author who overcame a neurological disease to probe the greatest mysteries of the cosmos and became an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died last week at age 76.

Hawking, who had suffered since age 21 from a degenerative motor neuron disease, became one of the most renowned science popularizers and one of the world’s greatest minds.

His work on black holes, quantum mechanics and the origin of the universe — proposing the first description of the Big Bang — changed our understanding of the universe and pointed to the existence of a “theory of everything.”

“Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination,” said Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York.

The intellectual giant may be gone, but he leaves behind words of wisdom that left a profound impression and a legacy as vast as the universe. Here are some of his thoughts, in his own words:

On his search:

“My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

On intelligence:

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

On learning:

“It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. It’s a crazy world out there. Be curious.”

On space exploration:

“In the long run the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. I just hope we can avoid dropping the basket until then.”

On the world of mathematics:

“People have the mistaken impression that mathematics is just equations. In fact, equations are just the boring part of mathematics.”

On wanting to make the theory of the universe understandable:

“If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.”

On his fame:

“I fit the part of a disabled genius. At least, I’m disabled — even though I’m not a genius like Einstein. … The public wants heroes. They made Einstein a hero, and now they’re making me a hero, though with much less justification.”

On living with ALS:

“I accept that there are some things I can’t do. But they are mostly things I don’t particularly want to do anyway. … I seem to manage to do anything that I really want.”

On living with a disability:

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”

On why Marilyn Monroe — in addition to Galileo, Einstein and Darwin — was among his heroes:

“I suppose you could say she was a model of the universe.”

On black holes:

“They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole, both to the outside, and possibly, to another universe. So, if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.”

On life:

“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. … Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”