SpongeBob SquarePants Creator Stephen Hillenburg Is Dead At 57

stephen hillenburg spongebob squarepants

SpongeBob SquarePants has been one of the most popular children's shows for nearly 20 years now, having first taken over Nickelodeon back in 1999. Its creator, Stephen Hillenberg, has been responsible for providing laughter and glee to millions of kids around the world. Sadly, Hillenburg passed away this week at age 57.

Stephen Hillenburg died on Monday after a lengthy battle with ALS. The animation superstar had first revealed in March 2017 that he had been diagnosed with the degenerative disease, and at the time, he'd planned on continuing his work on SpongeBob SquarePants for as long as he could. Hillenburg is survived by his wife Karen and his son Clay.

Nickelodeon released the following statement about Hillenburg's death, 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.

Born in Oklahoma on August 21, 1961, Stephen Hillenburg was extremely fond of two things as he was growing up: underwater life and art. He dabbled with both, and eventually graduated from California's Humboldt State University with a degree in natural-resource planning and interpretation, with marine resources emphasized. He minored in Art, and after spending some years teaching marine biology at the college level, decided to go back to school to continue developing his creative passions.

On the road to getting his Masters in Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts, Stephen Hillenburg created his first animated short films, The Green Beret and Wormholes. But more influential than those was The Intertidal Zone, an educational comic book he'd created to teach his students about tide pools. The comic featured Bob the Sponge and other anthropomorphized sea creatures that would go on to become SpongeBob SquarePants' main cadre of characters.

Stephen Hillenburg got his first shot with Nickelodeon as a director and writer on the also beloved animated comedy Rocko's Modern Life, where he stayed from 1993 until 1996. After that, the sky and sea were the limits, as Hillenberg began developing and crafting the show that would take him through to the end of his highly successful life.

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Since premiering in May 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants has gone through twelve seasons and nearly 250 episodes, with breaks taken here and there for Stephen Hillenburg and his creative team to work on both 2004's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and 2015's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. The first made over $140 million worldwide on a $30 million budget, while its sequel made over $323 million on a $74 million budget, proving the character's massive global popularity.

Both SpongeBob and Stephen Hillenburg have been nominated for nine different Primetime Emmy awards, but haven't managed to win any. However, the creator and the show have won multiple Annie Awards, ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards, Daytime Emmys, Kids' Choice Awards and many more. The show has also spawned a 4D attraction at Six Flags theme parts, among tons of other merchandizing tie-ins, and Hillenburg was the subject of the short-form 10th anniversary documentary Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants.

We at CinemaBlend send our thoughts, condolences and heart-shaped Krabby patties to the family and friends of Stephen Hillenburg in their time of mourning.

Nick Venable
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Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.