John Nash, the Nobel laureate and Princeton mathematician, whose life story was the inspiration for the book and movie “A Beautiful Mind,” was killed in an car accident along with his wife in New Jersey Saturday afternoon, New Jersey state police said.
Nash, 86, and his wife Alicia, 82, were traveling in a taxi cab on the New Jersey Turnpike when the driver lost control of the cab and crashed into a guard rail.
A police spokesperson said the couple, who were not wearing seatbelts, were pronounced dead at the scene after being ejected from the vehicle.
The two, married for nearly 60 years, lived in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, according to police.
“We are stunned and saddened by news of the untimely passing of John Nash and his wife and great champion, Alicia,” Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a statement Sunday. “Both of them were very special members of the Princeton University community.”
Nash had just returned from Oslo, Norway, where he received the Abel Prize prize from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters for his work in geometry and partial differential equations, which are used to describe the basic laws of scientific phenomena.
The award was also presented to New York University mathematician Louis Nirenberg, who called Nash “a kind of genius” and a truly great mathematician. Nirenberg said he had spoken with the couple at Newark airport before they got into the cab.
Among his other achievements, Nash won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 for his work in game theory.
Shortly after, he became a senior research mathematician at Princeton where he was a regular on campus, university officials said.
A native of Bluefield, West Virginia, Nash received his doctorate in mathematics from Princeton in 1950 and his graduate and bachelor’s degrees from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1948.
“John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians, economists and scientists who were influenced by his brilliant, groundbreaking work in game theory, and the story of his life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges,” Eisgruber said.
He met Alicia, a physics major originally from El Salvador, while the two were at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“A Beautiful Mind,” the 1998 book by the couple’s biographer, Sylvia Nasar, and its 2002 Oscar award-winning film adaptation, which starred Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, was loosely based on their story and their longtime struggle with Nash’s paranoid schizophrenia.
Crowe reacted to the news on Twitter Sunday morning:
Stunned…my heart goes out to John & Alicia & family. An amazing partnership. Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts. https://t.co/XF4V9MBwU4
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) May 24, 2015
In his biography, Nash said he began experiencing “mental disturbances” in 1959 when Alicia was pregnant. He eventually resigned from his post on the MIT faculty and spent 50 days at the McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.
He spent the next few years in and out of hospitals, “always on an involuntary basis and always attempting a legal argument for release,” he said. He returned to research during periods of mental clarity, which would earn him the reputation as one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century.
Of his own mental illness, he said, “I wouldn’t have had good scientific ideas if I had thought more normally.”
In recent years, the couple served as advocates for the mentally ill, especially in New Jersey and when their son was diagnosed with schizophrenia.