Stephen Hawking met his first wife Jane King in 1963. She was friends with his sister and about three years younger than him. Before they became a couple, however, Stephen was diagnosed with ALS and given a prognosis of two or three years more to live.
Jane found out about his diagnosis through friends and was understandably shocked. But it didn’t deter her from dating Stephen and eventually becoming his wife in 1965. The couple lived life vicariously in a time when the nuclear apocalypse seemed just minutes away. But Stephen’s health and physical ability continued to deteriorate and as of 1968 he was confined to his wheelchair.
Whilst Jane admitted many years later that there was little physical intimacy, the two did manage to have three children together. Ultimately Jane did not just raise three kids, however, she also cared fulltime for her ailing husband, who refused to acknowledge his illness or let any outsiders help.
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By all accounts Stephen’s physical constitution has never been great and as a man of the mind and the intellect, his body was less important to him than it would have been to an athlete, for instance. But perhaps a certain personal pride prevented him from acknowledging the inevitable truth: he needed help and so did his wife.
Jane was committed and loyal, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have needs of her own.
Eventually she met Jonathan Hellyer Jones, who became a close friend to the family and an anchor to Jane. She said of him that she would have ended up at the bottom of a river or in a mental institution without him.
Jonathan ended up moving into the Hawking’s household in 1979, but there is no indication that he and Jane were a couple at the time. Jane was still committed to her husband, she simply needed help and Jonathan was there.
In 1985 Stephen nearly died when he contracted pneumonia. Jane refused to let him go or have life support taken from him and slowly he recovered. But he finally lost what little capacity for speech he had and it was then that fulltime care was installed for him.
Three years later his Brief History of Time was published and Stephen Hawking became an overnight sensation. Arguably his crowning achievement, it also brought about the end of his first marriage to Jane.
Stephen had reportedly been unhappy with the situation of Jonathan living in the house and being so close to his wife. He eventually moved in with his carer Elaine Mason, who ended up becoming his second wife.
On the other hand, however, Jane couldn’t deal with the fame and fortune that Stephen’s publication brought him. He was revered by just about everyone, something she couldn’t bring herself to do. She was his wife, after all. She had been nursing him for most of their marriage and she knew all his weaknesses. She also knew his genius, but that doesn’t mean she needed to treat him like one. Jane claimed in her first book that the situation got to his head and that she and their children were simply left behind.
One gets the impression that Stephen left her long before she left him.
The divorce was acrimonious and lengthy. In 1990 the couple was separated, but apparently the divorce was only finalised in 1995. We don’t know how it was settled, however.
Stephen went on to marry Elaine in 1995. There is no way of knowing if she truly loved him, but there were allegations of mistreatment. Some of those allegations are pretty nasty and Stephen even ended up in hospital, because he was left out in his wheelchair in the sun on the hottest day of the year, which left him with terrible sunstroke.
Most accusations were made by other nurses and there were even charges, but Stephen denied that anything untoward had happened. Perhaps he once again didn’t want to acknowledge his own weakness.
In 2006 he and Elaine divorced and she more or less disappeared into anonymity.
At that time Stephen and Jane were not on speaking terms. They had been relatively friendly after she married Jonathan in 1997. Whilst she would never visit his home, she did speak to him. And so did their children. But for a time there was no contact, further giving the impression that all was not well with him.
When The Theory of Everything was made, which is based on Jane’s second book, she and Stephen were once more friendly. They both showed up on the red carpet together with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who portray the couple in the movie.
There can be little doubt that Jane loved Stephen. But chances are that she is happier with her second husband. Stephen on the other hand likely loved Jane when they were young. He did approve of the portrayal of their relationship in The Theory of Everything, after all. But he also admitted that he had no idea how difficult it had been for Jane, especially when she was still his fulltime carer.
His one and only true love, however, was and always will be the “goddess Physics”.