Get All Access for $5/mo

'Spongebob Squarepants' Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dead at 57 The creator of the megahit show proves that passion can take you far.

By Stephen J. Bronner Edited by Dan Bova

Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Images

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."

Stephen J. Bronner

Entrepreneur Staff

News Director

Stephen J. Bronner writes mostly about packaged foods. His weekly column is The Digest. He is very much on top of his email.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

This Mom Started a Side Hustle on Facebook — Now It Averages $14,000 a Month and She Can 'Work From a Resort in the Maldives'

Heather Freeman was searching for a way to make some extra cash — and her cousin gave her a great idea.

Side Hustle

This 26-Year-Old's Side Hustle That 'Anybody Can Do' Grew to Earn $170,000 a Month. Here's What Happened When I Tested It.

Stephen Alvarez was working at a dental supply company and following his passion for cars on the side — then an Instagram ad changed everything.

Starting a Business

He Turned His High School Science Fair Project Into a Product That Solves a $390 Billion Problem: 'This Has Not Been Done Before'

Vasya Tremsin was just 18 years old when he came up with the idea for outdoor fire sensor company Torch Sensors.

Business News

Why Does Taylor Swift Keep Stopping Her Shows Mid-Song? It's Actually a Great Lesson in Leadership.

Taylor Swift has paused nearly half of her shows while on the European leg of her Eras tour, and the reason is something leaders can learn from.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.