A shadow fell over Bikini Bottom on Tuesday as Nickelodeon announced the death of Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the network’s long-running hit animated series SpongeBob Squarepants. He was 57.
Hillenburg revealed in March of 2017 that he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and the network confirmed in a statement that he passed away due to complications with his condition.
“He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” the statement continues. “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.”
Nickelodeon also broke the news to fans on social media, marking “a moment of silence to honor his life and work.”
SpongeBob SquarePants launched on Nickelodeon in 1999 with Tom Kenny as the voice of the titular energetic sea sponge. It went on to spawn animated and live-action films, as well as a Broadway musical. Before that, Hillenburg worked on Rocko’s Modern Life and Rugrats.
In May of last year, SpongeBob was renewed through a 12th season, set to premiere in 2019.
Hillenburg is survived by wife Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg, brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, Brian’s wife Isabel, and nieces Emma and Hazel.