So it is inevitable that some news agency would do a coverage of Stephen Hawking, which is what this article did from USA Today. The main question being asked is how did he became that well-known?
Why so much attention to a theoretical physicist, one whose best-known book, A Brief History of Time, was published in 1988? Hawking has never won a Nobel Prize, did much of his work on the Big Bang three decades ago with another physicist, Roger Penrose, and planned to step down from his post this year.
Of course, the news article explored several different possible reasons. However, I think the illness he was inflicted with, and the fact that he can still function as a theorist, gave some "uniqueness" to his situation that is different than others. That is enough to garner the media and the public attention.