Stephen Hillenburg, “SpongeBob SquarePants” Creator, Dies at 57.

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the famous cartoon Sponge Bob, died on Monday 26

Stephen Hillenburg, a former marine biology teacher who created a children’s show that ballooned into an unlikely cultural phenomenon, “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died on Monday at his home in Southern California. He was 57.

American animator and producer Stephen Hillenburg had announced in March 2017 that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative pathology for which there is no cure. “I want people to know from my mouth that they have diagnosed me with ALS. 

Anyone who knows me will know that I will continue working on SpongeBob and the rest of my passions as long as possible, “the animator said in a statement. Stephen Hillenburg is survived by his wife, Karen (Umland) Hillenburg; a son, Clay; his mother, Nancy; and a brother, Bryan.

Stephen McDannell Hillenburg was born on Aug. 21, 1961, at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., where his father, Kelly, was based. His mother, Nancy (Dufour) Hillenburg, taught visually impaired students.

After graduating in studies of exploitation of natural resources in the Humbold State University of California and specializing in marine resources, Hillenburg began his career in animation in 1987 participating in several short films. He had always been interested in drawing as well, and he pursued studies in experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts, receiving a master of fine arts degree there in 1992. In 1992 he signed the film Wormholes, through which he came into contact with Joe Murray, creator of the series The Modern Life of Rocko, on Nickelodeon, in which he participated as a scriptwriter and creative director. In it he would meet Tom Kenny, who later gave voice to SpongeBob in the original version of the series.

In 1998, and based on some drawings he made during his time at the Oceanic Institute, Hillenburg developed the pilot chapter of what would end up being his most famous creation. At that time, his name was SpongeBoy, but being a name that was already registered, they changed it to SpongeBob.

The series premiered on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999. The success of the drawings was such that in 2004 it even had a movie version. That same year, the creator of the character left the executive production of the series to go into other projects. But after the second film, Sponge Out of Water (2015), he resumed his position as producer of the film and the series. In 2017, the character premiered his own Broadway musical, nominated for numerous Tony awards and with songs by Cindy Lauper, John Legend, David Bowie or Aerosmith, while the third feature film starring the animated characters will debut in 2020.

The first movie made an estimated $140 million worldwide. The second film, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” with Stephen Hillenburg as an executive producer, earned an estimated $325 million worldwide.

In 2007, Time magazine rated SpongeBob as one of the most important television programs in history. The series has aired on about 40 channels around the world. “At first it’s both weird and flattering,” he told The Times, “and then after a while you get tired of seeing it. It loses preciousness after a while.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Stephen Hillenburgh has died after a battle against the Commonwealth,” a representative of Nickelodeon television said in a statement.

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