Life and Death of John Nash: What Happened to Him and How Did He Die?

John Nash was an iconic American academician famed for his great intelligence and groundbreaking works in the fields of Mathematics, Cryptography, and Economics. He is also known for his fundamental contributions to the study of partial differential equations, game theory, and differential geometry, which are widely used in diverse fields today.

Nash has many prestigious awards to his name, including the John von Neumann Theory Prize (1978), Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1994), and Abel Prize (2015). At Princeton University, John was known as “The Phantom of Fine Hall”. His biography, A Beautiful Mind, was published in 1998 and was adapted for screen 3 years later. The film has so far garnered four Academy Awards. This piece takes you down memory lane and brings you right back to the final days of Nash’s life.

Who is John Nash?

John Nash was born—John Forbes Nash Jr—on June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia, The United States to parents John and Margaret Nash. His father was an electrical engineer, while his mother worked as a schoolteacher before she got married. Nash was raised in Bluefield alongside his younger sister, Martha (b. November 16, 1930). He attended kindergarten and public school and was exposed to much knowledge at a young age through books provided by his parents and grandparents.

Upon graduating from high school, John Nash moved to Carnegie Institute of Technology to major in chemical engineering on a George Westinghouse Scholarship. He switched to chemistry and at the advice of his teacher—John Lighton Synge, he made another switch to mathematics. In 1948, Nash graduated with both a B.S. and M.S. in mathematics. He was 19 at the time. He was immediately awarded another scholarship to Princeton University to further his studies in mathematics; a scholarship he chose over Harvard’s. It was while studying at Princeton that Nash began work on his famous equilibrium theory; which later became Nash equilibrium. By 1950, Nash had bagged a Ph.D., which he reportedly earned with a 28-page dissertation. The work on non-cooperative games would later earn him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences decades later in 1994.

The following year, 1951, after bagging a Ph.D., Nash was employed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a C. L. E. Moore instructor in the mathematics faculty. Seven years later, he had become a tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, bouts of mental illness impeded his work and made him resign his faculty position in 1959.

His Struggle With Mental Illness

After he resigned, his wife, Alicia Lardé Lopez-Harrison, got him admitted to McLean Hospital for treatment of schizophrenia. However, the strain of looking after Nash and her babysitting their first child caused Lardé to divorce Nash. After he was discharged in 1970, Nash went to live with Lardé as a boarder. This reportedly helped him recover and he gradually learned how to consciously ignore his incessant paranoia. At that time, he quit taking psychiatric medication. In no time, Princeton University gave him clearance to audit classes. He continued his work in mathematics and was reabsorbed into the system to teach.

John’s Awards and Major Contributions to Mathematics

Among other things, John Nash was famous for his outstanding achievements which have continued to inspire generations of economists, scientists, and mathematicians. Best described as brilliant and eccentric, the American mathematician is widely celebrated for his work in game theory, which earned him several awards including;

  • INFORMS John von Neumann Theory Prize (1978)
  • The Nobel Prize for Economics (1994)
  • The Leroy P Steele Prize (1999)
  • Class of Fellows of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (2002)
  • Double Helix Medal (2010)
  • Abel Prize (2015)

One of his prominent ideas, The Nash Equilibrium, which has grown to be an important idea in economic analysis, sketches out the ability to analyze situations of conflict and co-operation and come up with predictions about how people will behave. Interestingly, it has also found application in fields such as artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, and computing.

In addition to the Nash Equilibrium, the academician is also known for Nash functions, Hilbert’s nineteenth problem, Nash embedding theorem, and Nash–Moser theorem. According to sources, the Nash embedding theorem shows that every abstract Riemannian manifold can be isometrically realized as a submanifold of Euclidean space. Nash also contributed immensely to the theory of nonlinear parabolic partial differential equations and to singularity theory.

John Nash Family – Wife and Children

Nash and his wife, Alicia Esther Nash (nee Lardé Lopez-Harrison) met in 1951 when he became a member of the faculty of MIT in Cambridge. Alicia was a physics student in his advanced calculus class. The pair got married in an Episcopal church in February 1957 and later divorced in 1963 owing to the stress of dealing with his illness. They, however, re-married in 2001 when Nash regained his mental stability and remained together until their death in 2015.

Together, they had one son, John Charles Martin Nash (b. May 20, 1959). Following Charles’ birth, it would take a whole year before he is named. According to sources, Alicia wanted her then mentally ill husband to recover and to have a say in his son’s naming. Like his father, Charles suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He is a graduate of mathematics from Rutgers University. He currently lives in his family home in Princeton, New Jersey.

Although Charles was the only child Nash had with Alicia, Nash is nevertheless father to another son, John David Stier, whom he had with Eleanor Stier. She is a nurse Nash had met in 1952. The two were never married. Sources believe that Nash, due to her low social status, distanced himself from Stier when he discovered she was pregnant. Though David Stier is Nash’s first son, people hardly associate him with the iconic mathematician. In 2002, during the run-up to Oscars, the film A Beautiful Mind, which is based on John’s life was criticized for omitting this sensitive part of Nash’s relationship with now-deceased Eleanor Stier.

How and When Did John Nash Die?

Well into his eighties, John Nash was finally settling down into a fulfilling retirement when tragedy struck. the day was May 23, 2015, Nash and his wife had returned from Norway where he was receiving the Abel Prize. As reports have it, the couple was returning home from the airport in New Jersey when the cab they were in lost control and struck a guardrail. With the impact, they were thrown out of the car and were confirmed to have died on the scene. News of their death circulated all over the world as tributes poured in.

His Legacy

Following his death, John Nash became the subject of several publications. The New York Times published an article about Nash’s life and achievements. In Princeton University, he became known as “The Phantom of Fine Hall”; a shadowy figure who purportedly scribbled arcane equations on blackboards in Princeton’s mathematics center, at midnight. His biopic film, A Beautiful Mind (2001) has since won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

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