The animator was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year
Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, has died, it has been confirmed.
The animator died on Monday (November 27) from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which he was diagnosed with last year. He was 57 years old.
In a statement, a spokesperson for 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 humour 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.”
In a tweet, they added they would be “observing a moment of silence to honour his life and work.”
Hillenburg began working on SpongeBob after directing and writing another Nickelodeon series, Rocko’s Modern Life. The first episode of his own creation aired on the channel on May 1, 1999. Since then, nearly 250 episodes have been broadcast, while Hillenburg also wrote two movies – The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (which he also produced and directed) and its 2015 sequel Sponge Out Of Water.
Over the last 19 years, the TV show has picked up over 70 awards, including prizes from the Emmys, the British Academy’s Children’s Awards, the Kids’ Choice Awards, and more.
Hillenburg is survived by Karen, his wife of 20 years, his son Clay, mother Nancy, and brother Brian.
Tributes have begun to pour in on social media, with many fans sharing their favourite memories of SpongeBob and thanking Hillenburg for brightening their childhoods. See some of those messages below.