FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2015 file photo, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg attends the world premiere of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water” in New York. Hillenburg died Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 of ALS. He was 57. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants,’ dies at 57

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the hit animated Nickelodeon series “SpongeBob SquarePants, died Monday after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 57.

“He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” the cartoon network said in a statement Tuesday confirming his death.

“Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere,” the statement added. “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.”

SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks, Plankton, Pearl Krabs, Mrs. Puff, Larry the Lobster and the rest of the world of Bikini Bottom premiered in May 1999 and began a full run that July, capturing the imagination of kids young and old off the bat. While youngsters watched with their families, college students went their own way with Saturday-night viewing parties.

Tom Kenny, the actor who voices the show’s titular character, paid tribute to Hillenburg in an acceptance speech at this year’s Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in April.

“SpongeBob’s vocal cords might be mine, but SpongeBob’s playful spirit of gentle anarchy, his humor and the joy he takes in his vibrant, colorful, music-filled world come directly —directly —100 percent from my buddy, Mr. Stephen Hillenburg,” Kenny said as Hillenburg stepped onstage to accept the award for outstanding children’s animated program.

The phenomenal success of the show created a huge merchandising opportunity worldwide. But come 2002, after 60 episodes, Hillenburg decided against renewing his Nickelodeon deal.

“I definitely need a break,” Hillenburg told The Times that year, when he was 40 and said he wanted to try something new.

“I think the network wants to make a ‘SpongeBob’ movie,” he said. It was something he wanted as well, but he didn’t want to do it at the same time he was running the TV show. It wasn’t unusual, he said, for an animated series to end around 60 episodes.

The show has gone further than that: It’s now in its 12th season. It has won Emmys in the U.S. and Britain and been translated into more than 60 languages.

“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” —written, directed and produced by Hillenburg —came out in 2004, and he wrote and directed SpongeBob video games and shorts. He was also the executive producer of the 2015 sequel, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.” Another film is planned for a 2020 release.

Hillenburg didn’t start out pursuing a creative career in cartooning, though early on he’d been attending animation festivals in the U.S. and Canada.

Born to Kelly and Nancy Hillenburg on Aug. 21, 1961, at an Army base in Oklahoma, he graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a degree that emphasized marine resources, and taught he marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point, now known as the Ocean Institute.

There, he created colorful teaching tools that showed off his love of all things oceanic, writing and illustrating stories that birthed the future residents of Bikini Bottom. He soon found himself pursuing a degree in experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, earning an MFA in 1992.

Hillenburg shortly thereafter found himself working as a writer and director on Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life” before moving on full-time to produce and direct the animated series that would become “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg (nee Dufour) and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

CALGARY — An inquiry into who is funding environmental opposition to the… Continue reading

Whatever snow may possibly fall in Red Deer on the weekend will melt when it hits the warm ground, says meteorologist Kyle Fougere with Environment and Climate Change Canada. (File photo by ADVOCATE staff)
Weather expected to get warmer next week in Red Deer

It’s going to be a cold weekend, according to Environment Canada. Saturday… Continue reading

Retired city manager Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the Molly Banister Drive right-of-way at Tuesday's public hearing. He warns of future gridlock if the extension is removed by city council. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Former Red Deer city manager warns killing the Molly Banister Drive extension is ‘a terrible mistake’

Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the road alignment at next week’s public hearing

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada's top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Canada’s top physician painted a bleak picture Saturday of the toll the… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is naming his shadow cabinet, including his predecessor Andrew Scheer as the party's infrastructure critic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were “late and confused” on COVID response

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says Alberta has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Indigenous fishermen carry lobster traps in Saulnierville, N.S. on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Andrew Vaughan
Federal representative hopes to ease tensions in Nova Scotia lobster dispute

HALIFAX — The man tasked with lowering the temperature in a heated… Continue reading

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read