The Final Days of John Nash

Mathematician John Nash, center, meets children at a
Mathematician John Nash, center, meets children at a “math circus,” a day of math games, in Bergen, Norway, on May 21. He is seen here with Dagga Rune Olsen, rector of the University of Bergen, and Bergen Mayor Trude Drevland. (Anne-Marie Astad, Courtesy Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters)

From his modest two-story home at the foot of a busy intersection in Princeton Junction, John Nash set out on May 16 to celebrate what he considered the highest honor of a storied career in mathematics.

There had been other awards, other moments of international fame. A Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. A trip to the Academy Awards in 2002, when “A Beautiful Mind” — the film based on Nash’s life — received the Oscar for best picture.

But to Nash, the Abel Prize — a pure math award recommended by an esteemed international committee — trumped it all.

“There’s really nothing better,” he said after learning he’d won.

Nash’s abrupt, violent end on the pavement of the New Jersey Turnpike Saturday followed what the Abel Prize’s co-winner, Louis Nirenberg, called a “dream week” in Norway for both men, who were hailed by their peers as “towering figures” and “mathematical giants.”

Nash and his wife, Alicia, had a personal audience with King Harald V, pored over the works of the famed artist Edvard Munch, met the world’s top-rated chess player and watched from the Parliament building as children paraded by in traditional Norwegian dress.

Mostly, they talked about math: theorems and equations so advanced they’re understandable to only a small subset of the world’s population. Nash, reserved and soft-spoken, became more animated during those discussions, excited by the nuances of his life’s passion, according to those present.

Read the story on NJ.com (May 29, 2015)

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