Hillenburg, the mastermind behind Nickelodeon's hit cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants, had ALS

By Deirdre Durkan
November 27, 2018 01:46 PM

Stephen Hillenburg, the mastermind behind Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants, died on Monday. He was 57.

“We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants,” Nickelodeon shared on Twitter of the visionary creator’s passing. “Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work.”

The cause of death for the megahit creator was ALS, which he announced he had been diagnosed with in March of last year.

“He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “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’s fascination with the ocean sparked his decision to earn a degree in natural resource planning and interpretation, with an emphasis on marine resources, from Humboldt State University in 1984. He ultimately became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California.

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Credit: Eric Charbonneau/ Berliner Studio / BEImages/REX/Shutterstock

Later, Hillenburg combined his love of the sea with his artistic talent to create the beloved Bikini Bottom.

In 1987, he began his career in animation, and earned his master’s in 1992 at California Institute of Arts in Valencia. That same year, he took home the award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his animated short Wormholes.

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He joined the Nickelodeon’s series, Rocko’s Modern Life, as a director and writer before creating SpongeBob SquarePants.

The first episode of his megahit series aired on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999, and the series commenced its full run on July 17 that year.

The television series went on to win both U.S. and British Emmy awards and ASACP awards, in addition to being dubbed or sub-titled in more than 60 languages.

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg (nee Dufour), as well as brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, his wife Isabel and nieces Emma and Hazel.