John Forbes Nash, who died along with his wife his wife Alicia in a tragic car crash on May 23 in 2015, is a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician renowned for his breakthrough work in mathematics and game theory as well as for his struggle with mental illness.
His life was dramatized in the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind” in which he and Alicia Nash were portrayed by actors Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. The film centered on his influential work in game theory, which was the subject of his 1950 Princeton doctoral thesis and the work for which he received the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics.
To remember this unique mathematician, here are 11 facts about John Nash that you’ve probably never heard before.
John F. Nash Jr. at his Princeton graduation in 1950, when he received his doctorate. (Credit NYTimes)
1. Nash was an introverted individualist as a child
Long before John Nash exhibited any interest in mathematics, he already had certain unique features that, one might argue, predicted his success in later life, Physics Database writes.
His sister Martha remembered her brother being a unique and introverted child:
Johnny was always different. [My parents] knew he was different. And they knew he was bright. He always wanted to do things his way. Mother insisted I do things for him, that I include him in my friendships. … but I wasn’t too keen on showing off my somewhat odd brother.
2. One of Nash’s inspirations — E.T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics
When Nash was 14 years old he showed first signs of passion for mathematics. One of the biggest inspirations was E.T. Bell’s classic book titled The Men of Mathematics, which tells the story of some of the greatest mathematicians throughout history. The book is also famous for inspiring another great future mathematician — Freeman Dyson.
3. Nash’s first passion was chemistry
Before finding one’s way as a mathematician, Nash had a profound interest in chemistry. In 1941 he entered Bluefield College, where he enjoyed studying science subjects, especially chemistry. This passion interestingly lead to another eccentric hobby — practical jokes.
4. Nash was a renowned prankster
John Nash’s way of letting his steam off was pranking other people. It appears that the aspiring mathematician had a special talent for coming up with unique ways of tricking people. He is famous for using his chemistry knowledge to make explosives or tying his sister to a chair wired with batteries.
5. Nash used to have long discussions with Einstein
6. Nash met his future wife Alicia in an advanced calculus for engineers class
7. Nash was a bit of a legend in Princeton
Despite his mental problems Nash was allowed to come back to work in Princeton, where he became a bit of a local legend. He would wander around the campus with his red sneakers, write mysterious equations on blackboards and was liked by many students.
Russell Crowe as Dr. Nash in “A Beautiful Mind,” which won the Oscar for best picture. (Credit Eli Reed/Universal Studios)
8. He had schizophrenia
Nash used to talk about characters that do not exist and feared that "men with red ties" were conspiring against him. He missed the delivery of his son as he was in a mental ward in the same hospital. For almost 25 years, the disease troubled Nash and his kin.
9. Nash credits logical thinking for his recovery
10. Even at an old age Nash preserved his intellectual abilities and curiosity
11. John and Alicia remarried in 2001
Despite many ups and downs in their relationship and Nash’s mental health, John and Alicia always stayed close. Due to relationship problems they got divorced in 1963, but later in the early 70s Nash lived in Alicia’s house as a boarder, where she took great care of him. According to Nash, his wife’s care and love was another major factor in his recent recovery.
Dr. Nash and his wife, Alicia, in Paris in 1960. By then, mental illness had begun to take its toll on him. Though the couple divorced in 1963, she stood by him, and they later remarried.
John and his wife Alicia, in 2002. (Credit Laura Rauch/AP)