The creator behind perhaps the most beloved animated character in entertainment has died. Stephen Hillenburg died on November 26, 2018 at age 57 after fighting a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He created the animated television series named SpongeBob SquarePants, which has aired on Nickelodeon since 1999. The successful franchise has transcended the entertainment world and shaped American culture.
The Nickelodeon series became the network’s first original Saturday-morning cartoon. It received positive reviews from viewers and critics alike. The show has millions and millions of viewers, attracting both children and adults. It has generated billions of dollars in merchandise revenue. SpongeBob SquarePants has also produced two successful films, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in 2004 and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water in 2015. Hillenburg has also written SpongeBob Comics since 2011. The franchise has received numerous awards and honors since its creation.
Hillenburg was a marine biologist before entering the entertainment industry. He was enthusiastic about teaching marine biology to students. However, he also always had a keen interest in art and design. Knowing that pursuing an art career may be difficult to make a living out of, he decided to study marine biology instead. After receiving his marine biology degree, he became a teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute. He saw how his students loved learning about ocean life, which inspired him to use his art skills to teach about marine life.
He created an educational comic book called The Intertidal Zone, and used it to teach his students. After realizing his true passion for animation, he went back to school to study art in the Experimental Animation Program at CalArts in 1998. He was proficient in the field and graduated in 1992 with a Master of Fine Arts in experimental animation.
Hillenburg made short films such as The Green Beret and Wormholes, which showed his talent to the world. In 1993, he earned the position of director for the Nickelodeon show called Rocko’s Modern Life. After drawing inspiration from the aforementioned series and his marine biology instruction, he finally created SpongeBob SquarePants.
Stephen Hillenburg vowed to continue to work for SpongeBob SquarePants “for as long as [he is] able.” Through his imagination and optimism, Stephen brought the world so much happiness and entertainment with SpongeBob SquarePants.