×
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

  • Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna'Jane

    Rachel Bloom on the 'Beautiful Mystery' of the 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Series Finale

    While four seasons of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” have explored musical genres from boy bands to country, the one type of music series co-creator and star Rachel Bloom admits the show will not explore before the end is Rebecca’s own style. “Basically the idea is that part of the music in her mind is her looking inside [...]

  • Netflix's Lisa Nishimura Named Indie Film,

    Netflix's Lisa Nishimura Named Indie Film, Documentary Features Head

    In the wake of Bela Bajaria’s recent move to lead Netflix’s international non-English original TV series, the online streamer is shuffling its leadership team to more clearly distinguish between development of its English and non-English language content. As a result, Netflix has elevated Lisa Nishimura to vice president of independent film and documentary features, a [...]

  • Family Guy Bob's Burgers

    Fox Entertainment Lays Out Programming Slate in Post-Disney Merger Sizzle Reel (Watch)

    Fox Entertainment unveiled a new sizzle reel on Wednesday night in the wake of the Disney-21st Century Fox merger officially closing, with the broadcaster touting its current series roster. The video features both scripted and unscripted programming across Fox’s lineup. Among the shows featured are legacy series like “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” and “Empire.” In [...]

  • Katherine Heigl

    Katherine Heigl Cast as Lead in CBS Comedy Pilot

    Katherine Heigl has been cast as the female lead in the CBS comedy pilot “Our House,” Variety has learned. The show centers around a devoted mom (Heigl) and dad, who are committed to raising their children with the love and support the mom never got as a kid, but discover how difficult that is with her insane [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Lee Daniels

    Lee Daniels Reveals the 'Empire' Team's 'Anger' and 'Sadness' at the Jussie Smollett Fallout

    In a video posted to his Instagram Wednesday afternoon, “Empire” creator Lee Daniels has let everybody know how he feels about the Jussie Smollett “incident.” “These past couple of weeks have been a freakin’ rollercoaster,” Daniels said in the video. “Me and my cast have experienced pain, anger, sadness and frustration, and really don’t know [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    WGA Leaders to Meet With Showrunners on Agency Packaging Fight (EXCLUSIVE)

    WGA leaders are set to meet Wednesday night with a group of showrunners who are raising concerns about the guild’s handling of negotiations with talent agents over the issue of packaging fees and agency-affiliated productions. The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at WGA West headquarters. WGA West president David Goodman is expected to attend. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content