The creator of SpongeBob Squarepants, Stephen Hillenburg, has passed away at the age of 57.
Hillenburg’s death comes after the creator of one of the most popular cartoon shows was diagnosed with ALS last March.
ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis “is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord” according to the ALS Assocatiation. The disease makes it so your brain can no longer control your muscles and it can cause people to lose the ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe.
Nickelodeon released an official statement mourning Hillenburg’s passing and praising him for the profound impact he had and will continue to have on the world.
“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”
On Twitter the network also sent out a heartfelt Tweet about the news of Stephen Hillenburg’s passing:
💛 We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work. 💛
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) November 27, 2018
Stephen Hillenburg came into cartoons from a different avenue than most.
He was born on August 21st, 1961, at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. He was the son of Draftsman/Designer for aerospace companies Kelly N. Hillenburg and teacher Nancy Hillenburg.
He graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation with an emphasis on Marine Resources. From there he became a Marine Biology teacher at Orange County Marine Institute (Now known as the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California.
With his background in Marine Resources and Biology it can explain the source of his inspiration for many of the characters seen on SpongeBob Squarepants. He combined his passion for teaching and marine life with his artistic talents to create stories to teach children about marine life.
He didn’t stay on as a teacher because in 1987 he began to pursue his Masters of Fine Arts from the California Institute of Arts in Valencia where he would go on to earn the degree in 1992. Also during that year, he won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his animated short called “Wormholes.” This short would go on to be shown at various other international animation festivals.
This helped him get some work with Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life were he worked as a director and writer for the series.
Because of his work on Rocko’s Modern Life. He started to work full-time on writing, producing, and directing a project that would later become SpongeBob Squarepants. The first episode would debut on May 1st, 1999.
Stephen Hillenburg is survived by his wife of twenty years Karen Hillenburg, his son Clay, brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, his mother Nancy Hillenburg, and of course the colorful cast of SpongeBob Squarepants.