'Spongebob Squarepants' Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dead at 57
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Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Spongebob Squarepants, died Monday at the age of 57, more than a year after revealing an ALS diagnosis.
Before he created the cultural icon and megahit for Nickoledeon -- he worked in a completely different, although somehow related, field: marine biology. But Hillenburg always harbored a love for animation. After attending two animation festivals in the 1980s, he was inspired to leave his teaching job at the Ocean Institute and pursue his passion, without any inkling of the success he would eventually have.
"I didn't look at the career aspect -- it was what I was interested in doing," he told The Washington Post in 2009. "I was planning on being a starving artist."
He invested several thousand dollars to create a short film, Wormholes, which caught the attention of Joe Murray, who went on to create the Nickoledeon cult classic cartoon, Rocko's Modern Life. Hillenburg worked as a writer and director on that show during its three-year run.
Hillenburg then adapted a comic book he created into Spongebob Squarepants (employing many of the same people who worked on Rocko). The show debuted in 1999, has aired nearly 250 episodes and has been dubbed or subtitled in more than 60 languages. Spongebob has been the star of two movies, video games, comics and even a Broadway musical.
“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “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.”
Spongebob was created because of Hillenburg's love for animation, as well as his love for the sea, which he wanted the audience to appreciate.
"People have to get together and [realize] how important our oceans are," he told The Washington Post. "Hopefully, if you watch SpongeBob, you see plankton and crabs and starfish -- and you'll [want to] take care of our oceans."