‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Dies at 57

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of animated megahit Nickelodeon SpongeBob SquarePants, died on Monday. He is 57 years old.

Hillenburg, a former marine biology teacher, died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at his home in Southern California. He was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease in March 2017.

Nickelodeon on Tuesday announced his death in a tweet: “We are saddened to share the news of the passing of SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg. Today, we are observing a moment of silence in honor of his life and work.”

Hillenburg has been nominated for an Emmy Award nine times for SpongeBobbut never a winner.

In February at the Annie Awards in Los Angeles, Hillenburg was among those awarded the Winsor McCay honor for his career contributions to animation. SpongeBob vocalist Tom Kenny performed onstage and accepted the award on behalf of Hillenburg as he remained seated to a standing ovation.

Born on August 21, 1961, in Lawton, Oklahoma, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University of Northern California in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in natural resource planning and interpretation, with a focus on marine resources.

“Clear, SpongeBob It’s a comedy, but it’s really inspired because I like marine science,” he said in a 2015 interview. “I’m focused on that, and I never thought the two would be. come together.”

While working as a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Oceanographic Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California, Hillenburg noticed that “animation was starting to explode,” and that led him to enroll in the College of Marine Biology. California Institute of the Arts in Valencia as a graduate student in 1987. Five years later he left with a degree in experimental animation.

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Beginning in 1993, Hillenburg wrote and directed for Rocko’s Modern Life and Rugrats at Nickelodeon.

Martin Olson, a writer on Rocko’s Modern Life, admired a comic book that Hillenburg had drawn and written about tidal pools. Hillenburg recalls: “I thought, “If I were to do a show, it would be about the invertebrates and the crazy animals that exist in the ocean. “That very moment said, ‘Maybe I should pursue this.'”

SpongeBob SquarePants premiered in May 1999. The series – which has won numerous awards, including honors from the UK Emmys, Annies and ASCAP – has aired over 250 episodes during its nearly two decades on the air.

Hillenburg was also an original voice actor for Potty the Parrot and played the ukulele for some of the show’s original music.

SpongeBob SquarePants has been adapted twice to the big screen: in 2004 Movie The SpongeBob SquarePants and again for 2015 Movie The SpongeBob: Sponge Out of Water. Also, the character that found life on stage in Tony wins SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musicalincluding 327 performances in September.

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen (the character Karen Plankton is named for); clay lipstick; Nancy’s mother; brother Brian and his wife, Isabel; and nieces Emma and Hazel.

“Steve has absorbed SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of children and families everywhere,” said Nickelodeon. “His completely original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will last as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship, and the limitless power of the imagination.”

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Mike Barnes and Carolyn Giardina contributed to this report.

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