Stephen Hillenburg, a former marine biologist who achieved worldwide renown for his animated television series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died from the neurodegenerative disease ALS on Tuesday at the age of 57.
Hillenburg’s series, which follows the life of its title character — a sea sponge — and his neighbors in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom, first aired in 1999 and became an instant success. The series is currently in its twelfth season on the popular children’s network Nickelodeon. Beyond the success of the television series, SpongeBob was also a box office hit on the big screen. Two full-length SpongeBob films were released in 2004 and 2015, and another is currently in production with a scheduled release date in 2020.
Hillenburg’s character has also been merchandizing gold, creating more than $13 billion (€11.5 billion) in sales for Nickelodeon.
SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick, a starfish, were a hit with children and adults around the world
Awards and controversy
Hillenburg and his team have received a number of awards for their work and the series is often ranked among the most popular animated series of all time. The series has also been the subject of controversy, mainly due to the ambiguity of its main character’s sexual orientation.
Hillenburg, who was born in Oklahoma and raised in southern California, announced in 2017 that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as motor neurone disease and as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He said that he would continue to work on the series for as long as possible.
“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” Nickelodeon said in a statement on Tuesday.