‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg Reveals ALS Diagnosis

Stephen Hillenburg Spongebob
Allocca/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the long-running hit Nickelodeon series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” has revealed that he has been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS.

The 55-year-old animator shared a statement with Variety announcing the diagnosis and his intent to continue working on the series, which has been on the air since 1999.

“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS.,” the statement reads. “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.”

A source close to Hillenburg said he received the diagnosis recently and is in the early stages of the disease. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a rare terminal illness that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Hillenburg is a former marine biology teacher who channeled his love of the ocean into animation. “SpongeBob” began as a Saturday morning cartoon in 1999, before transitioning to primetime, where it became a multibillion-dollar franchise popular among kids and adult viewers as well.

Hillenburg also directed 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” as well as a co-writer and executive producer on the 2015 sequel. He stepped down as the showrunner to work on the first movie but remained an executive producer. Last March, Nickelodeon renewed “SpongeBob” for a 10th and 11th season, which will keep the series on the air for well over 200 episodes.

“Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans,” read a statement Nickelodeon issued. “Our thoughts and support are with Steve and his family during this difficult time. Out of respect for their wishes for privacy, we will have no further comment.”

Correction: An earlier draft of the story suggested Hillenburg exited the series and returned, but he never left.

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  1. reversalmushroom says:

    Very unfortunate.

  2. Orestis says:

    When I was younger, Spongebob was my favorite cartoon. As I grew up and happened to find Spongebob here or there, I started to realize and appreciate its humor, and for that I can safely say that today it is still my favorite cartoon. Recently, I’ve started to suspect that some of my moral values
    and ethics are connected to Spongebob. Spongebob is Nickelodeon’s best show, and this is something I have supported long before I read this article. I hope you read my comments for I wish you the best.

  3. Dear Steve, I am so deeply sorry to read of your diagnosis. Please, do not lose hope. Scientists are getting closer and closer to the cure. We are walking loud. Team Spongebob will be in our hearts on May 6 when we walk the ALS in New York!

    #DefeatTheBeast

    Team TSMIMITW (The Second Most Interesting Man in the World).

  4. Audrey Ling says:

    I’m so shocked and so very sorry to hear the news. I have a relative who was born with ALS so I know what it’s like. My thoughts and many prayers are with you and your family. I LOVE Spongebob and all his friends and co-workers and may I mention that I’m 84 years old and still enjoy watching the show with my granddaughter and sometimes with my son. Maybe I’m in my “second childhood” (!) but I hope it’s just that I’m still young at heart. May you continue to do what you love for a very, very long time.

  5. Jake says:

    I’m terribly sorry to hear about your diagnosis of ALS Stephen. I’ve loved Spongebob since it first aired when I was 8 years old. I’m now a 25 year old child who still laughs hysterically at the show. It really is timeless and I thank you for creating it. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

  6. Lee Knox says:

    I’m so sorry to hear. My husband was diagnosed on Valentine’s Day with ALS as well. Although he is further along than you are with yours. You have brought lots of laughter and joy to many. And you always will…Spongebob 💜💜💜 Much Love and Peace to you and your family.

  7. Jerry Allen says:

    I feel for Stephen and his family. Believe me, I think I know what he’s going through. I was just diagnosed with ALS two days ago (Monday the 13th). I wish I could talk to him because I feel so frightened and alone. Stephen, if you read this and want to talk with someone in the same situation, please contact me! I know I’d like that. Hopefully you can get my contact information from Variety.

    • Sheila Lowrie says:

      Jerry Allen, my name is Sheila, I was diagnosed Nov. 4, 2015. I encourage you to check out the many blogs online written by people living with ALS. I would be happy to share what I have tried and find helpful. Just remember there many people living 10, 20 and more years with ALS some still walking, talking, eating and breathing on their own. There is so much research happening and new treatments may be available soon!

  8. joe parascand says:

    sorry to hear you have ALS lost my beautiful wife to this horrid disease.praying you have the slow progressing disease . still fighting big pharm to speed up the approval of all the potential new drugs that might heip join the right to take any drug that might help god speed

  9. Ileana Labrada says:

    So sorry to hear. This is a true devastating disease

  10. Steven Barber says:

    I lost a friend to ALS in 2008 i wish there was a cure for this Diease

  11. Karen Moses says:

    Stephen,
    Both of my children love Spongebob. One is 23, and the other. Is 15. We still watch it.
    I was so very close to mother, who I lost in 2008 to. ALS. My grandfather also had it several years before here. He lived with it lots longer than my mom, maybe it was the different types. I know the,ALS folks are making progress daily, so I am praying for you.

  12. This is devastating. Though we’ve never met, we have a mutual friend, who I just spoke with last week. He mentioned Steve and the origins of Spongebob in an interview I had with him, and on more than one occasion, spoke highly of him.

    I am an emotional person, and often at a loss as to what to say in these situations, other than to say “I’m so sorry to hear it”. Ugh!

  13. Dorothy Thomas says:

    This is heartbreaking. Mr. Hillenbrand is a brilliant and creative genions. Fight hard against this disease.

  14. Cindy Amerine says:

    I am dismayed to hear this but hopeful a cure will be found soon. I have ALS too. Listen to a song of hope on YouTube ALS Odyssey Anthem❤️

  15. Sawyer says:

    you think this dude just hastily assumed its ALS? He’s rich. He’s been to every specialist there is probably. lmao

  16. Fiona says:

    So sorry to hear this sad news. My 4 grandchildren have all enjoyed this program… and so have I.

  17. Alex Meyer says:

    How sad.

  18. Joe says:

    Unbelievable. Wishing him well.

  19. john says:

    The show could potentially stay on the air, it’s had different producers over the years. Still, it is Hillenburg’s baby and I don’t think they should keep it going if he gets too sick to be involved.

  20. Sarah says:

    Wishing you the strength to fight on. You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.

  21. Finn says:

    Praying for you Steve

  22. Marie says:

    God bless you

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