American animator Stephen Hillenburg passed away on Monday due to complications of ALS. He was 57 years old. He is perhaps best known as the creator of the television series Spongebob Squarepants.
Hillenburg had a background in marine biology and, in fact, made a comic for a marine institute called The Intertidal Zone. After graduating from CalArts, he met Joe Murray at an animation festival and was able to secure a job at Nickelodeon, directing for Murray’s show Rocko’s Modern Life.
Another writer for Rocko suggested Hillenburg try pitching his own show based on The Intertidal Zone. After some rewrites and a lot of effort, Nickelodeon greenlit Spongebob Squarepants.
On Tuesday, Nickelodeon announced the news of his death in a tweet.
???? We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work. ????
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) November 27, 2018
The show has been influential for many artists and entertainers.
Rest in Peace, Stephen Hillenburg pic.twitter.com/u9VzVcTVr4
— Andrew Sings Holiday Blues (@AWDtwit) November 27, 2018
Spongebob Squarepants in its prime was one of the best animated shows ever created, and hugely influential to many aspiring animators and writers who are around now. Thank you, Stephen Hillenburg, and rest in peace.
— Jordan Christmastopher Cwierz (@JordanCwierz) November 27, 2018
I just rewatched a ton of the first 60 episodes of SpongeBob for work and they hold up so well, timeless jokes that are absurd works of brilliance. Such silly fun executed masterfully by Hillenburg and his team pic.twitter.com/PSu6Hxvacx
— Henry Gilbert (@hEnereyG) November 27, 2018
I'm so saddened to hear this, Stephen Hillenburg's creations inspired me to pursue art, and still inspire me everyday. I know Spongebob is a huge part of people's lives and a huge tribute to comedy, imagination and heartfelt animation … ???? https://t.co/BiE3QjeGNR
— Kaley Bales (@polarbales) November 27, 2018
A giant of cartoons has left us. A kind, brilliant and hilarious genius who will forever be remembered for his creations. Animation was changed for the better thanks to him. And millions of kids grew up with a character that championed innocence. Gracias for everything, Steve. https://t.co/Nn0DCnabJS
— Jorge R. Gutierrez (@mexopolis) November 27, 2018
R.I.P. Stephen Hillenburg He made one of the greatest shows of the 2000’s something I didn’t think we can even think of pop culture in this era without Spongebob. Also don’t forget his time on Rocko. One of the great creators in entertainment. This is a sad day
— Jim Gisriel (@JimmFORCE) November 27, 2018
Premiering in 1999, Spongebob went on to become a hit. It overtook the popularity of shows such as the Pokémon cartoon series, becoming the highest rated Saturday morning children’s series. By the end of 2001, it had the highest ratings of any children’s series on television.
After completing three seasons and a movie, Hillenburg stepped back from Spongebob, not wanting the show to grow stale. He thought Nickelodeon would cancel the show without him, but hadn’t counted on how much money it was bringing in. The show is still on today, just shy of 20 years into its run. Hillenburg stayed on in an advisory role and returned to the show fully after the second movie released in 2015.
Fans have been paying tribute to the animation legend.
Rest in peace Stephen Hillenburg, the man responsible for making millions of people around the world laugh and smile for decades. pic.twitter.com/fRmdiI9g6G
— Clay (@_ClayPot) November 27, 2018
I still remember the days when I watched SpongeBob as a kid. I grew up with him as the years went by.
The fact that Stephen Hillenburg passed away is really sad… We just lost one of the greatest childhood icons of early-to-mid 2000s…
May the sea bless your soul Stephen…
— ????★Gustavo★ツ????????????(7 DAYS TIL SMASH!!!) (@LightBlueSquid) November 27, 2018
yo man i hate doing these rip tweets. rip stephen hillenburg though. you fueled my childhood and gave me after school cartoons that nurtured my sense of humour for years into adulthood. i still watch spongebob til this day as a grown ass man.
RIP to my guy.
— RUSSELL! ???? (@RUSSELLislovely) November 27, 2018
Only 57. So young to go so soon. He made spongebob when he was 37. What a legend. RIP ???? pic.twitter.com/aAWi9bQbrk
— ???????? (@Dreamville109) November 27, 2018
This year has just absolutely shattered my heart. Lost two creative, imaginative individuals in both Stan Lee and Stephen Hillenburg, who both shaped so much of my own childhood, and my childhood wonder.
— Noravity (@Noravity) November 27, 2018
Stephen Hillenburg has given me so much since 1999. He and his team inspired my sense of humor and helped me remember to be optimistic in dark times. Without him the greatest cartoon of the modern era wouldn't exist. I will remember that forever. Good bye Stephen, we'll miss you. https://t.co/m0xZvShPAX
— The Tonight Show With Joseph Solano (@DoctorRagnarok) November 27, 2018
I am broken…Whoa that came out of left field RIP Stephen Hillenburg 🙁 pic.twitter.com/mClU9gfMw0
— Sky #TeamSkyward (@SkywardWing) November 27, 2018
Shocked and saddened to hear about Stephen Hillenburg. He had such a huge impact on my life and helped shape my sense of humor to this day. His run on Spongebob is so important to me and so many millions of others feel the same.
— Gus | ᴴᶦᵗᵐᵃⁿ ² (@guscraw) November 27, 2018
Hillenburg told Variety that he had been diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in March 2017.
While the disease is a terminal diagnosis, Hillenburg said:
“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.”
Hillenburg says "I will continue to work on SpongeBob SquarePants and my other passions for as long as I am able." https://t.co/36WdhVpS2e
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) March 14, 2017
The rare illness, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes the death of neurons that control voluntary muscle movements. The disease is most often fatal within two to four years.
Hillenburg’s influence on the medium will be felt for years to come.