Stephen Hillenburg attends the world premiere of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water 3D on January 31, 2015.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images for Paramount International)

It’s a sad day not just under the sea but everywhere as Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, has died at the age of 57.

The cause of death was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.” Hillenburg was diagnosed with the disease back in March of 2017.

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Though he worked in animation for almost 20 years, Hillenburg’s biggest creation was the blend of two of his loves, marine biology and animation. Born in 1961, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree focusing on marine resources. A few years later, he began studying experimental animation at California Institute of Arts, earning a Master of Fine Arts in 1992. A year later, he was working for Nickelodeon, writing and directing on shows like Rocko’s Modern Life and Rugrats. Then, in 1999, he created a world of undersea characters lead by one SpongeBob SquarePants. The rest is history.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement released to Variety. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. 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 also put up the following tweet.

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As an artist, you hope and pray to leave some kind of legacy—something that the world will remember you by. Hillenburg did more than that. He created a universe and characters that families will embrace and love for generations.

Both the ALS Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association have information on how to support those diagnosed and their families, as well as ways to donate to research efforts and related causes.