The intellect is not the friend of the modern culture of mass-produced inanity. However, it would be nice to have the illusion of giving the intellect its fair due-we are an enlightened age after all. And so, enter Stephen Hawking. People get to feel a kind of awe for Hawking's pure mind, immersed as he is in matters that are for the overwhelming majority of us purely esoteric & of no personal consequence. Crucially, along with this reverential awe, lies the pleasures of condescension at Hawking's physical condition. The intellect may be all well and good but would one really want to be Hawking? He is the perfect symbol of a neutered intellect that one has the generosity to patronise. DH Lawrence echoes here somewhere.
So Hawking a kind of Elvis figure for the age; were he not born he would have had to have been created. To add: his merits as a thinker are relatively irrelevant- it's the image that counts.
As an aside, isn't it interesting that in a time of such unprecedented human numbers there isn't one great genius striding the public landsacape. Not a Picasso, Dostoevsky, Beethoven, Tarkovsky...in these terms- nothing. Probably just as well; one wouldn't want someone contradicting the defiled equation of the spirit of democracy. Everyone is equal.
If everyone is equal, what is it they are equal to?
The lowest common denominator.