It wasn't long ago that SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmys. He was honored by SpongeBob himself, as Tom Kenny, the actor who voiced the iconic water-soaked character, gave a nearly two-minute long speech about the series creator at the awards ceremony in April.
"Sometime in 1997ish, Stephen Hillenburg showed me some drawings he had done for a show that he was thinking about pitching to Nickelodeon about a good hearted sponge, his dumb sea star friend, a greedy crab boss, a cranky squid neighbor, a teeny tiny enemy and a Texas squirrel that's gone subaquatic," Kenny began. "I know, seen it before, right?" he joked.
"I fell in love immediately and it seems like some other people did too," he continued, before boasting the series' impressive stats, like the fact that it airs in over 200 countries, has been translated into dozens of languages, and is the most widely distributed property in Viacom media network history.
"SpongeBob's vocal cords might be mine, but SponeBob's playful spirit of gentle anarchy, his humor and the joy he takes in his vibrant, colorful, music-filled world come directly — directly — 100 percent from my buddy, Mr. Stephen Hillenburg."
The crowd erupted into applause as Hillenburg, who by then had announced his ALS diagnosis, made his way onstage to accept the trophy, the inscription of which Kenny read out loud.
"The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honors Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, for his contribution and impact made in the animation field and within the broadcast industry. April 27, 2018," Kenny read.
"Thank you," Hillenburg said, waving and smiling to the crowd.
Seven months later, Hillenburg would succumb to ALS. He died at the age of 57 on Monday, Nov. 26.
"We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS," Nickelodeon said in a statement on Tuesday. "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."
The network also paid homage to the legendary writer and illustrator on Twitter, writing, "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."
Born in Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1961, Hillenburg worked as a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California in the 1980s. After earning a degree in Experimental Animation and his Master of Fine Arts, he won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his short "Wormholes."
Shortly after, he worked as a writer on Rocko's Modern Life before creating SpongeBob in 1999. The first episode of SpongeBob SquarePants aired on May 1, 1999 and has aired nearly 250 episodes to date. The series is famous for breaking through an age barrier, appealing to not only its obvious audience of children, but older viewers as well, thanks to its quick witted humor.
The series has won Emmy Awards in both the United States and in Britain.
Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg.