‘SpongeBob Squarepants’ creator Stephen Hillenburg dies at 57

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the megahit Nickelodeon cartoon series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died on Monday. He was 57.

The cause of death was ALS, which Hillenburg revealed he had been diagnosed with in March of last year. He is survived by his wife of twenty years Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg (nee Dufour) and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, his wife Isabel, and nieces Emma and Hazel.

“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. 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–or Steve as he was known to family, friends, and fans–was born August 21, 1961, at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. After leaving the military, his father, Kelly N. Hillenburg, Jr., became a draftsman and designer for aerospace companies. His mother Nancy taught visually impaired students.

Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation, with an emphasis on marine resources. He then became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California. This interest, combined with his artistic talent and love of the sea and its creatures, led him to write and illustrate stories as teaching tools with characters that would later become the denizens of SpongeBob’s home, Bikini Bottom.

15 PHOTOS
Creator of 'Spongebob' Stephen Hillenburg
See Gallery
Creator of 'Spongebob' Stephen Hillenburg
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: Executive producer Stephen Hillenburg attends the 'The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water' world premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on January 31, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 14: Director Stephen Hillenburg and actress Scarlett Johansson attend the film premiere of 'The Spongebob Squarepants Movie' at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre November 14, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - APRIL 27: Producer Stephen Hillenburg (L) and actor Tom Kenny attend the 45th Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on April 27, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03: Actor Tom Kenny (L) and cartoonist Stephen Hillenburg attend the 45th Annual Annie Awards at Royce Hall on February 3, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04: Stephen Hillenburg (creator of 'Spongebob') poses at the opening night arrivals for the new musical 'Spongebob Squarepants' on Broadway at The Palace Theatre on December 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04: (L-R) Director Tina Landau, cartoonist Stephen Hillenburg and president of Nickelodeon Cyma Zarghami attends the 'Spongebob Squarepants' Broadway opening night after party at The Ziegfeld Ballroom on December 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage) Director Tina Landau President of Nickelodeon Cyma Zarghami
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 25: Cartoonist Stephen Hillenburg (L) and Karen Hillenburg arrive at the 2017 Princess Grace Awards Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 25, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: Executive Producer Stephen Hillenburg attends the World Premiere of 'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water 3D' at the AMC Lincoln Square on January 31, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Paramount International)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 25: Stephen Hillenburg (L) and Karen Hillenburg attend 2017 Princess Grace Awards Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 25, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Princess Grace Foundation - USA)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: Executive Producer Stephen Hillenburg attends the World Premiere of 'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water 3D' at the AMC Lincoln Square on January 31, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Paramount International)
TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 23: Stephen Hillenburg, the writer of a U.S. cartoon 'The SpongeBob SquarePants' poses with its charactor SpongeBob SquarePants at an event held at Tokyo International Anime Fair on March 23, 2006 in Tokyo, Japan. The film of this popular U.S. Cartoon will open on April 22 in Japan. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
Bill Faggerbakke, the voice of 'Patrick Starfish', Tom Kenny, the voice of 'SpongeBob SquarePants' and Stephen Hillenburg, Creator of'SpongeBob SquarePants' (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage for Harrison & Shriftman)
Stephen Hillenburg and wife during Upton Sinclair Fundraising Benefit - May 5, 2005 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. ***Exclusive*** (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 14: Director Stephen Hillenburg attends the film premiere of 'The Spongebob Squarepants Movie' at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre November 14, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
'Spongebob Squarepants' Stephen Hillenburg with the voice of 'Spongebob', Tom Kenny at the 2002 Summer TCA Awards Ceremony held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Los Angeles Ca, January 20, 2002. (photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect).
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

He 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.”

From there, he began to work full-time on writing producing, and directing on the animated series that would eventually become “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The first episode aired on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999 and the series commenced its full run on July 17 of that year. The series has aired nearly 250 episodes to date. It appealed not only to children but older viewers as well, with college students even organizing viewing parties for the show.

The series has won both U.S. and British Emmy Awards, Annie Awards, and ASACP Awards and has been dubbed or sub-titled in more than 60 languages, including Urdu, Azerbaijani and Maori.

Hillenburg also wrote, produced, and directed “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie”, which was released in 2004 and went on to gross over $140 million worldwide. Hillenburg then wrote the story for and was the executive producer of the sequel, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” in 2015.

Subscribe to Variety Newsletters and Email Alerts!

Read Full Story

Sign up for Entertainment Insider by AOL to get the hottest pop culture news delivered straight to your inbox!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.