Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the Nickelodeon cartoon show “SpongeBob SquarePants,” has died. He was 57. Hillenburg was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in March of 2017.
“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.”
The network praised Hillenburg’s creative abilities and the positivity of the SpongeBob character. “Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere,” the statement continued.
“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.”
Hillenburg leaves behind his wife Karen, son Clay, mother Nancy, brother Brian, sister-in-law Isabel and nieces, Emma and Hazel.
“SpongeBob SquarePants” has aired on Nickelodeon since 1999 and has earned many awards over the years, including four Emmy Awards. It’s the network’s biggest hit.
Upon announcing his diagnosis, Hillenburg said that he planned to continue working on his career-making show as long as he could.
“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS,” Hillenburg said in a statement in March 2017. “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support.”
Prior to creating “SpongeBob,” Hillenburg worked as a biology teacher at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. He began working in animation in 1987 and worked on Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life” from 1993 to 1996 before launching “SpongeBob.”
We’re sending our deepest condolences to Hillenburg’s loved ones during this difficult time.