Reports today suggest that brilliant English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author Stephen Hawking was so ill with pneumonia (contracted during a visit to CERN) in 1985 while writing his Brief History of Time that doctors offered to turn off his life support system. His then wife, Jane, refused and Hawking, who has a motor neurone disease which has progressed over the years to leave him almost entirely paralyzed, recovered but not without being given a tracheotomy which removed what remained of his speech. He had previously used partner-assisted scanning to communicate but at about this time he was given a computer program called "The Equallizer" from Walt Woltosz - allowing him, unassisted, to select between nearly 3,000 letter/word options. One of his nursing staff (he required full-time care after the life-threatening pneumonia), Elaine*, had a husband who was a computer engineer and he rigged a portable computer to go on Mr Hawking's wheelchair ... giving him the true power of speech. One of the first things he did with his new computer-generated voice (with an American accent which he has kept unchanged) was to ask his assistant to help him finish Brief History. And the rest is ... History was finished and for a work that set out to be a popular book which "would make the universe accessible to the general public" - it was ... staying on the best-seller list for over 4 years (237 weeks) and making Stephen Hawking a household name.
* Elaine subsequently left David and married Mr Hawking in 1995, but they have since divorced.