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)

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.

Just Posted

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman holds up freedom of information requests that turned up no records. The Opposition requested back-to-school re-entry plan correspondence between Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and school boards, teachers and the media. Photo via Facebook live
NDP renews calls for Alberta gov’t to scrap K-6 draft curriculum

The NDP is once again calling on the Alberta Government to get… Continue reading

Earlier this week Alberta Health Services warned that Rocky Mountain House Health Centre emergency department would be temporarily without physician coverage from May 12, at 6 p.m., to May 13, at 7 a.m. (Photo contributed by the Town of Rocky Mountain House)
Doctors needed in Rocky Mountain House

Emergency department temporarily closed due to doctor shortage

The owner of Mae’s Kitchen in Mirror, says hamlet residents were ‘disheartened’ by a recent anti-restriction protest. The restaurant is following all the health restrictions in place. (Photo courtesy Mae’s Kitchen Facebook)
‘We don’t need that’: Mirror restaurant against recent anti-restriction protest

A week after a large anti-restriction protest at The Whistle Stop Cafe… Continue reading

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor (81) scores on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell (36) as TJ Brodie (78) defends during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, May 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Connor scores twice, Jets beat Leafs in regular-season finale

Connor scores twice, Jets beat Leafs in regular-season finale

Atletico Ottawa defender Vashon Neufville controls the ball during Atletico Ottawa’s first team practice of their inaugural season in the Canadian Premier League in Ottawa, Wednesday June 3, 2020. The Canadian Premier League plans to kick off its third season mid-June to early July in one location without fans. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Wattie
Canadian Premier League delays kickoff again, looks to mid-June to early July start

Canadian Premier League delays kickoff again, looks to mid-June to early July start

Calgary’s Stephen Ames shoots 66 to take Mitsubishi Electric lead

Calgary’s Stephen Ames shoots 66 to take Mitsubishi Electric lead

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) deflects a shot against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
NHL postseason: Who’s hot as the playoffs arrive?

NHL postseason: Who’s hot as the playoffs arrive?

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, celebrates a goal with teammates during third period NHL action against the Montreal Canadiens, in Ottawa, Wednesday, March 5, 2021. Brown will lead a young Canadian squad into the world hockey championship in Riga, Latvia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ottawa forward Connor Brown leads Canada’s roster at world championship

Ottawa forward Connor Brown leads Canada’s roster at world championship

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Jayna Hefford shakes hands with people associated with the hall before a hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils in Toronto. The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association is forging ahead in its bid to establish an economically sustainable professional league in North America with or — for now — without the NHL’s full financial backing. In response to Sportsnet.ca reporting the NHL was not in a position to operate a women’s league for the foreseeable future, PWHPA executive Jayna Hefford wrote in an email to The Associated Press late Thursday that her group has begun developing what she called “a parallel path for a future that doesn’t rely on NHL support.” (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
PWHPA forging ahead without NHL backing of women’s hockey

PWHPA forging ahead without NHL backing of women’s hockey

‘No secrets’ and no certainty in one-of-a-kind NHL playoffs

‘No secrets’ and no certainty in one-of-a-kind NHL playoffs

Supporters dance during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., on Saturday, May 8, 2021. RCMP say they have ticketed four people after the rally that was attended by hundreds.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leadership responsible for protests against public health orders: expert

Alberta leadership responsible for protests against public health orders: expert

Most Read