The creator of everyone’s favorite yellow sponge, Stephen Hillenburg, has passed away on Monday, November 26. He was only 57 years old.
His reported cause of death is ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a nervous system disease that weakens muscles and also impacts physical function. Medication and therapy can slow ALS and help to reduce comfort, but there is no known cure.
Hillenburg was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease in March. Below is a statement he made regarding his diagnosis:
“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS. 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. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.”
Nickelodeon has released a statement regarding Hillenburg’s passing:
“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. 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.”
Hillenburg was born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1961 and graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a degree in natural resource planning. He started his career by teaching marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point, California before switching his focus on animation. He earned a degree at the California Institute of the Arts and then began his animation career.
Before the first episode of SpongeBob SquarePants aired on May 1, 1999, Hillenburg wrote and directed episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life, another Nickelodeon classic, from 1993 to 1996. There are now more than 250 episodes of SpongeBob and the series is still producing more.
If you’re a 90s kid like me, this probably hit you as hard as it did me. Stephen Hillenburg, we 90s kids are so grateful to have been able to grow up with a show like SpongeBob SquarePants. We thank you for the laughs and joy you have brought us over the years. Goodbye, friend.