Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the popular animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died Monday after a battle with ALS. He was 57.
Nickelodeon remembered the showrunner in a statement as a “beloved friend and long-time creative partner.”
“Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere,” the statement read. “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.”
Hillenburg revealed he had been diagnosed with ALS in March 2017, but said at the time that he would continue working on “SpongeBob,” the beloved series he created in 1999.
A former marine biologist, Hillenburg blended his love of the sea and animation with the groundbreaking show, which featured a yellow sponge living in a pineapple under the sea with his starfish best friend Patrick, his crab boss Mr. Krabs, and his pet snail Gary, among others.
“I wanted to do a show about a character that was an innocent, and so I focused on a sea sponge because it’s a funny animal, a strange one,” Hillenburg told the New York Times in 2001. “I thought he was a funny, nerdy, squeaky-clean square.”
The show premiered in 1999, and is currently in its 12th season, having aired more than 250 episodes.
“SpongeBob” inspired a feature-length film in 2004, which the Emmy-nominated Hillenburg wrote, produced and directed, as well as a sequel in 2015 and a Broadway musical, which debuted in 2017 to critical acclaim.
“I wanted to create something new and original. I figured we’d have a cult following for this weird little show,” he said in 2004. “It still is a weird little show. It just got big. It’s a big weird little show.”
Prior to his work in Bikini Bottom, Hillenburg was a director and writer for Nickelodeon’s “Rocko’s Modern Life” from 1993 to 1996.