Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Nickelodeon’s hit animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, passed away on Monday, November 26, 2018, at the age of 57. He died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which he was diagnosed with last year.
Hillenburg moved from a career as a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) to animation in 1987, enrolling at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. After graduating with a degree in experimental animation, he began working for Nickelodeon as a writer and director for Rocko’s Modern Life. However, a comic book titled The Intertidal Zone that Hillenburg wrote and drew as a teacher inspired Bikini Bottom and its madcap denizens in SpongeBob SquarePants. The show premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999 and became a runaway hit, airing continuously ever since. Hillenburg was the executive producer and showrunner from the premiere to 2004, overseeing the show turning into a genuine phenomenon and making a successful leap to movie screens with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in 2004. Hillenburg then turned the show over to Paul Tibbitt, although he did co-write and executive produce the second SpongeBob SquarePants movie, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water in 2015.
Hillenburg is survived by his wife Karen (for whom Karen Plankton was named), his son Clay, his mother Nancy, his brother Brian and wife Isabel, and nieces Emma and Hazel.