×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘SpongeBob Squarepants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dies at 57

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the megahit Nickelodeon cartoon series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died on Monday. He was 57.

The cause of death was ALS, which Hillenburg revealed he had been diagnosed with in March of last year.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “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.”

Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation, with an emphasis on marine resources. He then became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California. This interest, combined with his artistic talent and love of the sea and its creatures, led him to write and illustrate stories as teaching tools with characters that would later become the denizens of SpongeBob’s home, Bikini Bottom.

He began his animation career in 1987, pursuing a degree in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia and earning his Master of Fine Arts in 1992.

That same year he won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his animated short “Wormholes”, which went on to be shown at various international animation festivals. From 1993 to 1996 he would pursue work in television as a director and writer on Nickelodeon’s series “Rocko’s Modern Life.”

From there, he began to work full-time on writing producing, and directing on the animated series that would eventually become “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The first episode aired on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999 and the series commenced its full run on July 17 of that year. The series has aired nearly 250 episodes to date. It appealed not only to children but older viewers as well, with college students even organizing viewing parties for the show.

The series has won both U.S. and British Emmy Awards, Annie Awards, and ASACP Awards and has been dubbed or subtitled in more than 60 languages, including Urdu, Azerbaijani and Maori.

Hillenburg also wrote, produced, and directed “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” which was released in 2004 and went on to gross over $140 million worldwide. Hillenburg then wrote the story for and was the executive producer of the sequel, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” in 2015.

Hillenburg — or Steve as he was known to family, friends, and fans — was born August 21, 1961, at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. After leaving the military, his father, Kelly N. Hillenburg, Jr., became a draftsman and designer for aerospace companies. His mother Nancy taught visually impaired students.

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

RELATED VIDEO:

More TV

  • Willow ShieldsVariety Portrait Studio, Beautycon Festival

    'Hunger Games' Alum Willow Shields Joins Netflix Drama Series 'Spinning Out'

    Willow Shields has been cast in a series regular role in “Spinning Out,” the upcoming ice skating drama series at Netflix. She joins a cast that also includes Kaya Scodelario, who was announced as the series lead on Thursday, taking over the role originally held by Emma Roberts. Shields will star as Serena, Kat Baker’s (Scodelario) [...]

  • Adam Levine Cardi B

    Maroon 5 and How the Super Bowl Halftime Show Became Music's Least Wanted Gig

    Who would have thought that the Super Bowl Halftime show, an American institution watched by more than 100 million people, would become the least wanted gig in music? But thanks to the ongoing controversy concerning the NFL’s stance on a player’s right to protest, brought to the forefront by football’s top conscientious objector Colin Kaepernick, [...]

  • CBS Studios Exterior

    James Corden's Fulwell 73 to Develop Sci-Fi Drama at CBS (EXCLUSIVE)

    CBS is developing a drama series that hails from James Corden’s production company, Fulwell 73, Variety has learned exclusively. The series is titled “Embody.” In the series, after a mission gone wrong renders her permanently blind, a special agent volunteers for an experimental government program that can temporarily transfer her consciousness into someone else’s body, giving [...]

  • Jimmy Kimmel's Latest Trolling Effort Involves

    Jimmy Kimmel's Latest Trolling Effort Involves 'Fortnite'

    The latest request from Jimmy Kimmel asks parents to turn off the TV while kids are playing “Fortnite.” The host of Jimmy Kimmel Live explained that he asked parents to prank their kids with a new Youtube Challenge called “Hey Jimmy Kimmel, I turned off the TV during Fortnite.” Parents participated by filming the results [...]

  • Celebrities Sound Off on 2018

    Celebrities Pick Their Favorite Movies and TV Shows of 2018

    Still looking for the latest and greatest movie, TV series or book to finish before the year is out? Why not ask the folks behind Hollywood’s favorite hits, what they’re reading and viewing this 2018. We reached out to the stars and creators behind the things you love (including Barry Jenkins, Steven Canals and Dan Levy)  to [...]

  • Mary Poppins 1964

    P.L. Travers' Efforts to Adapt 'Mary Poppins' for Film, TV Were Often Less Than Jolly

    Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” a sequel decades in the making, opens Dec. 19. Even before the 1964 original, Hollywood made several attempts to adapt P.L. Travers’ books, with Samuel Goldwyn and Katharine Hepburn among those involved in the chase. But aside from a one-hour 1949 CBS television version, they all hit a dead-end. The first [...]

  • Morgan Spurlock Sexual Misconduct

    Morgan Spurlock to Pay TNT $1.2 Million After Abandoning Docuseries

    Morgan Spurlock has reached a settlement with Turner Entertainment Networks a year after he confessed to a history of sexual misconduct and walked away from a documentary series. Spurlock’s company, Warrior Poets, has agreed to pay Turner $1,173,707, according to a final judgment filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday. In the spring [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content