Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Nickelodeon's hit show "SpongeBob SquarePants," passed away, the network announced on Tuesday. He was 57 years old.
Hillenburg died after a battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. In March, he announced that he had been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease.
"We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg died after a battle with ALS, he was a very dear friend and creative partner of everyone on Nickelodeon, and our hearts are with his whole family," the network said. in a sentence.
"Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of children and families around the world," the statement said. "His completely original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will remain for a long time as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the unlimited power of the imagination."
Hillenburg was born in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1961. He graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in natural resource planning and became a professor of marine biology at Dana Point, California. In 1987, he made a career in animation and graduated with an experimental animation degree at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia in 1992.
The following year, he began working as a writer and director on "Rocko & s Modern Life" by Nickelodeon. He continued working for the network full time, producing his animated series that eventually became "SpongeBob SquarePants", which debuted on May 1, 1999.
Joe Murray, the creator of "Rocko & s Modern Life," watched one of Hillenburg's short films and asked him to direct episodes of the show. "That was really important to me because I really would not have known how to put on a show without that experience," Hillenburg said in a 2005 interview with Nick Animation.
The show went on to several awards, including four Emmys and six Annie awards. Hillenburg adapted his show for the big screen twice. "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" released in 2004 and "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" debuted in 2015.
"Obviously, SpongeBob is a comedy, but it was really inspired because I liked marine science," he told Nick Animation. "I concentrated on that and I never thought that the two would join."
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