It's a sad day in Bikini Bottom. Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the smash hit cartoon series SpongeBob Squarepants, died on Monday, according to Nickelodeon. He was 57.
The award-winning producer revealed in March 2017 that he had been diagnosed with ALS, which Nickelodeon said was the cause of death.
"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 wrote on Twitter, "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."
Hillenburg's career in media began as a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California after graduating from Humboldt State University with a bachelor's degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation in 1984. His interest in marine biology, combined with his artistic talent, led him to create and illustrate stories as teaching tools featuring characters that would later become the residents of Bikini Bottom.
In 1987 he pursued a degree in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia, then earned his Master of Fine Arts in 1992. He won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his short "Wormholes," which was shown at various international animation festivals.
He then began his work in television as a director and writer on Nickelodeon's Rocko's Modern Life. The first episode of SpongeBob SquarePants aired on May 1, 1999 and has aired nearly 250 episodes to date. The animated series is famous for breaking through an age barrier, appealing to not only its obvious audience — children — but older viewers as well.
The series has won Emmy Awards in both the United States and in Britain, in addition to Annie Awards and ASACP Awards. It has become a worldwide phenomenon, having been dubbed or subtitled in more than 60 languages.0comments
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, released in 2004, was also Hillenburg's brainchild. It grossed over $140 million worldwide. He also wrote and executive produced the 2015 sequel, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.
Born on Aug. 21, 1961 in Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, he is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg, brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg and his Isabel and their daughters Emma and Hazel.