‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator, Stephen Hillenburg, Has Died at Age 57

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Everyone knows and loves SpongeBob, the shapely, yellow sea sponge known for his upbeat attitude and pineapple home under-the-sea. Kids and adults have been delighted by SpongeBob for years.

Sadly, SpongeBob’s beloved creator, Stephen Hillenburg, lost his battle with ALS today, passing away at the age of only 57.

Tragically, Hillenburg was diagnosed with the disease in March of 2017 and while he fought the disease heroically, he lost his battle. He is survived by his wife Karen Hillenburg, and his son Clay.

The world has lost one of its most fun-loving and creative minds.

Nickelodeon released the following statement, according to Variety:
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.

SpongeBob debuted on Nickelodeon on May 1st of 1999 and has run for an insanely impressive 250 episodes since then. 

The enduring fame of SpongeBob shocked many. It became an instant hit with kids, but the show’s sneaky, subversive adult humor made it watchable for parents. And then a funny thing happened. SpongeBob and his undersea universe hit it big on the Internet. From GIFs, to memes, to Reddit and Tumblr conspiracy theories, young people have picked SpongeBob as a beacon and injected him into popular culture via social media. The thing is…. it works. Have you ever needed a meme to describe a weird feeling? Well, there’s a SpongeBob meme for that. And we have Stephen Hillenburg to thank for it.

Hillenburg’s obsession with the ocean began as a child.

In college he pursued a major in Marine Biology and a minor in Art, putting him on the path to creating the most beloved children’s show set under the sea. In 1984, Hillenburg joined The Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California, to help educate the general public about marine life and history. And there, he began to draw. While at the Institute, Hillenburg created a comic book called The Intertidal Zone which he used to make marine biology interesting to kids. Many of the well-known and beloved characters you watch in SpongeBob the television show were dreamed up during this period of his life. Sadly, Hillenburg couldn’t get any reputable publishing houses to publish his comic book.  

Soon, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

According to Variety, “Hillenburg began his animation career in 1987, pursuing a degree in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia and earning his Master of Fine Arts in 1992. That same year he won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his animated short Wormholes, which went on to be shown at various international animation festivals. From 1993 to 1996 he would pursue work in television as a director and writer on Nickelodeon’s series Rocko’s Modern Life.” All millennial kids will fondly remember Rocko’s Modern Life as the show about an immigrant wallaby named Rocko who wears the same shirt every day, has a best friend named Heffer, and a dog named Spunky. The theme song was famously recorded by the B-52s.

In 1994, he decided to develop his original comic, The Intertidal Zone.

The characters from The Intertidal Zone comic eventually became the concepts that formed SpongeBob SquarePants. So let’s thank the late, great Stephen Hillenburg for his brilliant creative mind, wicked sense of humor, and desire to teach children about marine life! Rest in peace, Stephen.