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John Nash, mathematician who inspired A Beautiful Mind, killed in car crash


Mathematician John Nash, the Nobel Prize winner who inspired the film A Beautiful Mind, has been killed in a car accident along with his wife in New Jersey. He was 86.

Nash and his wife, Alicia Nash, 82, were in a taxi accident Saturday, New Jersey State Police Sergeant First Class Gregory Williams told CBC News.

Police responded to the accident at 4:30 p.m. local time on the New Jersey Turnpike southbound.

Two people had been ejected from the vehicle, Williams said, and were pronounced dead at the scene.

Emergency responders freed the trapped driver, who was then transported to hospital.

One other vehicle, a Chrysler, was involved in the crash. A passenger from that vehicle was injured and transported to hospital.

The accident is under investigation, said Williams. No charges have been laid.

‘A kind of genius’

The Oscar award-winning film A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe was loosely based on Nash’s longtime struggle with schizophrenia.

Crowe wrote on Twitter on Sunday that he was stunned by reports of the death of Nash and his wife, Alicia.

“An amazing partnership. Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts,” he wrote on Twitter.

Known as brilliant and eccentric, Nash was associated with Princeton University for many years, most recently serving as a senior research mathematician. He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 for his work in game theory, which offered insight into the dynamics of human rivalry. It is considered one of the most influential ideas of the 20th century.

Just a few days ago, Nash had received a prize from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo with New York University mathematician Louis Nirenberg, who said he’d chatted with the couple for an hour at the airport in Newark before they’d gotten a cab. Nirenberg said Nash was a truly great mathematician and “a kind of genius.”

“We were all so happy together,” Nirenberg said. “It seemed like a dream.”

John David Stier, Nash’s son with his first wife, said he learned of the death Sunday morning. “It’s very upsetting,” he said.

In an autobiography written for The Nobel Foundation Web site, Nash said delusions caused him to resign as a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also spent several months in New Jersey hospitals on an involuntary basis.

A Beautiful Mind won 4 Oscars

However, Nash’s schizophrenia diminished through the 1970s and 1980s as he “gradually began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking,” he wrote.

The 2001 film A Beautiful Mind won four Oscars, including best picture and best director, and generated interest in John Nash’s life story. The movie was based on an unauthorized biography by Sylvia Nasar, who wrote that Nash’s contemporaries found him “immensely strange” and “slightly cold, a bit superior, somewhat secretive.”

Much of his demeanour likely stemmed from mental illness, which began emerging in 1959 when Alicia was pregnant with a son. The film, though, did not mention Nash’s older son or the years that he and Alicia spent living together after divorcing. The couple split in 1963, then resumed living together several years later and finally remarried in 2001.

Born in Bluefield, West Virginia, to an electrical engineer and a housewife, Nash had read the classic Men of Mathematics by E.T. Bell by the time he was in high school. He planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and studied for three years at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), but instead developed a passion for mathematics.

He then went to Princeton, where he worked on his equilibrium theory and, in 1950, received his doctorate with a dissertation on non-cooperative games. The thesis contained the definition and properties of what would later be called the Nash equilibrium.

Nash then taught at M.I.T. for several years and held a research post at Brandeis University before eventually returning to Princeton.

Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber said the Nashes were special members of the university community.

“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 in a statement.

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