Stephen Hillenburg, the man who created one of the most iconic cartoon characters of the century — SpongeBob SquarePants — died on Monday. He was 57.
Variety reports Hillenburg died of ALS, a condition he had been diagnosed with in March 2017.
Born on Aug. 21, 1961, in Lawton, Okla., Hillenburg attended Humboldt State University, graduating in 1984 with a degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation. He became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute in California.
He began a career in animation in 1987 at the Experimental Animation at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia, graduating in 1992.
From 1993-96, he worked as a director and writer on Nickelodeon’s series “Rocko’s Modern Life.” On May 1, 1999, Hillenburg’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” made its debut on Nickelodeon. To date, there have been nearly 250 episodes of the show.
The show has picked up awards — Emmy, Annie and ASACP — and been dubbed and subtitled in more than 60 languages.
In 2004, Hillenburg brought the Bikini Bottom dweller to the big screen in “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” which racked up more than $140 million at the box office. A sequel, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” premiered in 2015.
In a statement, Nickelodeon said, “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 is survived by his wife, Karen, a son Clay, his mother Nancy Hillenburg (nee Dufour) and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg.
Chris Pastrick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at 724-226-4697, [email protected] or via Twitter @CPastrickTrib.