John Nash, inspiration behind 'A Beautiful Mind,' dies in car crash

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: May 25, 2015 15:33 IST

John Forbes Nash Jr, the brilliant mathematician who won a Nobel for economics and whose life inspired the book and film "A Beautiful Mind", has died in a car crash at the age of 86.

The taxi Nash and his wife Alicia, 82, were travelling in hit a guardrail and another car, throwing both of them out of the car and killing them both instantly on Saturday morning, according to authorities.

The accident took place on a very busy turnpike in New Jersey. Police said the cab's driver lost control of the vehicle, according to AP.

A colleague who had received an award with Nash in Norway earlier in the week said they had just flown home and the couple had taken a cab home from the airport.

Nash's accomplishments in mathematics and their impact on economics have been compared to the impact of the discovery of the DNA double helix on biological sciences.

Yet it was the story of his life - a struggle with schizophrenia and mental illness - captured in the book "A Beautiful Mind" and the film based on it that made Nash famous. Russell Crowe played Nash in the film, which won four Oscars.

Born to an engineer father and a teacher mother in western Virginia, Nash had a rather unremarkable run at school, and his desire to become an engineer like his father left him miserable.

Professors at the Carnegie Institute of Technology spotted his genius for mathematics and encouraged him in that direction, which he pursued with phenomenal success.

In 1950, Nash published his theory of non-cooperative games known as the Nash equilibrium, which became a key mathematical tool for analysing competitive situations.

"I think honestly that there have been really not that many great ideas in the 20th century in economics and maybe, among the top 10, his equilibrium would be among them," Howard Kuhn, a Princeton colleague and friend, said about Nash, according to The New York Times.

Most of his path-breaking work came before he even turned 30.

Nash had insights before he could hammer out the proofs of their accuracy, with the ideas coming to him more like revelations than like scholarly findings, The Washington Post said.

As word of his genius spread, so did reports about his arrogance and odd habits - abruptly leaving a conversation, for one.

His mental illness started in the late 1950s, when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He would be hospitalised many times and dropped out of sight in the academic world.

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

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.

He would recover and win the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994 for his work in game theory, which offered insight into the dynamics of human rivalry.

Known as brilliant and eccentric, Nash was associated with Princeton University for many years, most recently serving as a senior research mathematician.

Russell Crowe, who portrayed Nash in "A Beautiful Mind," tweeted that he was "stunned."
"An amazing partnership," he wrote. "Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts."

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

Crowe was nominated for best actor, while Jennifer Connelly, who portrayed Alicia Nash, won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

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John Nash: A life of great struggle and even greater success
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