Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the massively popular Nickelodeon cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants, has died. The marine biologist turned cartoon animator passed away at age 57 after a battle with ALS, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Hillenburg publicly revealed his ALS diagnosis in March of last year.
In a statement posted by Nickelodeon, the children’s TV network expressed sadness over the death of the iconic animator, describing him as “a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon.”
“Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. 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.”
The network’s official Twitter page also paid tribute to Stephen Hillenburg, announcing the sad news to fans and revealing that the network would observe a moment of silence to honor the late animator’s work. In addition, veteran Nickelodeon voice actress Kari Wahlgren tweeted an announcement about Hillenburg’s death and added broken heart emojis.
Other fans from all over the world remembered Stephen Hillenburg, and his contributions to animation. You can see some of the reaction to the SpongeBob SquarePants creator’s death below.
???? 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
— Kari Wahlgren (@KariWahlgren) November 27, 2018
Very very sad… goodbye Mr. Hillenburg https://t.co/SXGvrt6qWW
— swampy marsh (@mmonogram) 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
Stephen Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation, with an emphasis on marine resources. Three years later, he enrolled at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia, graduating in 1992 with an MFA in Experimental Animation. The following year, Hillenburg landed a job as a writer and director on the Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life before creating SpongeBob SquarePants, which debuted on Nick in May of 1999.
The cartoon series, set in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom, has produced more than 250 episodes, two big-screen movies, and a Broadway show in its nearly 20 years on the air. The SpongeBob character and his pals Patrick Star, Mr. Krabs, and the rest of the gang also became merchandising icons.
In a 2009 interview with Boston.com, Hillenburg commented on SpongeBob‘s 10-year milestone, admitting that he “never imagined working on the show to this date and this long.”
“It never was possible to conceive that… I really figured we might get a season and a cult following, and that might be it,” he said.
Stephen Hillenburg also revealed that the SpongeBob series was inspired by his love of the classic Laurel and Hardy short films, explaining, “You’ve got that kind of idiot-buddy situation — that was a huge influence. SpongeBob was inspired by that kind of character: the Innocent — a la Stan Laurel.”