×
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

  • CBS Studios Exterior

    CBS Credit Union Manager Pleads Guilty to $40 Million Fraud

    The manager of a credit union for CBS employees pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court on Monday to a $40 million embezzlement scheme. Edward Rostohar, 62, was arrested in March after the scheme began to unravel. According to prosecutors, he admitted to stealing money from the bank for the last 20 years. Rostohar is [...]

  • EP_6_0036.ARW

    TV Review: 'Good Omens'

    Like Starz’s “American Gods” before it, Amazon’s newest limited series attempts to adapt the philosophically lofty, theologically-infused work of British novelist Neil Gaiman. In his 1990 novel “Good Omens” (co-written with Terry Pratchett), an odd-couple angel and demon attempt to avert the apocalypse in order to continue enjoying their unusual partnership. Onscreen, this pairing — [...]

  • Emmys: Second Annual FYC Independents Screenings

    Emmys: 'All American,' 'Atypical,' 'Vida' Actors Among Lineup for Second Annual FYC Independents Screenings (EXCLUSIVE)

    The FYC Independents Screenings will take place Friday, May 31 in Van Nuys, Calif, Variety has learned exclusively. Formerly the FYC U.S. Independents, this evening of screenings and schmoozing with talent from series such as the CW’s “All American,” Netflix’s “Atypical” and Starz’ “Vida” is thrown by actress and producer Meredith Thomas to increase visibility [...]

  • School of American Ballet, The Nutcracker

    Imagine Documentaries Teams With School of American Ballet, DCTV for 'On Pointe' Series

    Imagine Documentaries has partnered with DCTV and School of American Ballet for “On Pointe,” a docu series offering an inside look at the rigorous training program at the nation’s foremost school for ballet professionals. The deal calls for Imagine to work with DCTV and the School of American Ballet on a series chronicling the pursuit [...]

  • Lester Holt

    Chris Berend Tapped to Oversee NBC News' Digital Efforts

    Chris Berend, an executive who has been overseeing digital video for CNN and helped launch Great Big Story, a streaming-video site aimed at younger audiences, will jump to NBC News to lead its digital efforts. Berend will replace Nick Ascheim, who will move into a new role that is described as “improving digital and product [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content