Tributes Pour In For ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg After His Death At Age 57

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.

The show has been influential for many artists and entertainers.

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.

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.”

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.

H/T: The Hollywood Reporter, NPR