On March 14th, the world lost a great mind — Stephen Hawking died in London. The physicist and cosmologist, who turned into a pop culture icon, was 76 at the time of his passing. Not only was he known for his vast intelligence, but for his wonderful sense of humor and profound life wisdom. While mourning the loss, Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, like many other celebrities, tweeted her admiration for Hawking but, unfortunately, people took issue with her wording.
Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, when he was 21 years old. A progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects muscle movement, Hawking eventually required the use of a wheelchair, and — after losing his ability to speak — a computerized voice program. Not only was Hawking diagnosed earlier than most, but he was initially only expected to live a few years after diagnosis — which he surpassed by decades.
While Gadot clearly meant no harm by her tribute, it struck a nerve with some, who deemed the tweet ableist (meaning discriminatory to those with disabilities). “Rest in peace Dr. Hawking,” she wrote. “Now you’re free of any physical constraints[…]Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever.”
Some have since taken issue with the fact that Gadot mentioned Hawking’s physical “constraints” at all, noting that Hawking soared to great heights in life — higher than many who are supposedly “abled.” He won countless awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Copley Medal. Many might argue that to view him as constrained in any way marks a narrow definition of both ability and life.
Fans were quick to voice their opinions on Twitter.
Gadot has yet to respond to the comments, but we’re hoping she takes some time to read them and clarify her — albeit well-meaning— message. It could serve as an important learning moment for both the actress and for the millions of people her voice will reach.