Stephen Hillenburg, Creator of Spongebob Squarepants, Dies at 57

Published on December 5, 2020

Stephen Hillenburg, the animator responsible for creating shows like Spongebob Squarepants, has died at age 57 after being diagnosed with ALS, a motor neurone disease that causes the death of neurons that cause muscle movement. Earlier this year Stephen Hawking, the famed physicist, also died after a long battle with the disease for much of his life. Stephen Hillenburg died in his home after complications from ALS this week. He announced that he had been diagnosed with the disease in March of last year. Nickelodeon announced his death.

Remembering Stephen Hillenburg

Stephen Hillenburg started his career in animation while getting his education at CalArts in experimental animation, though he had a lifelong interest in marine biology. His first position with Nickelodeon was as a director on Rocko’s Modern Life from 1993-1996. Three years later, in 1999, Nickelodeon gave him his own show. Spongebob Squarepants first premiered on May 1, 1999. It was the children’s networks first official Saturday morning cartoon. The show was originally supposed to be called Bob the Sponge, but was later changed to Spongebob Squarepants. Today, the show is broadcast in more than 60 languages worldwide.

The show told the story of Spongebob, an energetic sponge who, along with his friends Patrick, Sandy and Squidward, navigates through life in the small undersea town of Bikini Bottom. Spongebob Squarepants has earned a place in American history as one of the longest running children’s animations of all time. Spongebob Squarepants has won over 75 awards between its time as a TV series and two feature-length films. The Spongebob franchise has seen endorsements and products all over the world, from Spongebob toys to clothing and more. There was even a short-running Broadway production in New York City. The production earned one Tony award after being nominated for 12. Not only that, but the show birthed some of the best memes in Internet history.

The Future Of The Show

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. 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,” Nickelodeon said in a statement to announce the death of Stephen Hillenburg.

Nickelodeon has not announced whether or not it will continue to create SpongeBob SquarePants. Odds are the show will go until the end of time. Each episode is comprised of two 11-minute episodes over 22 minutes. The show currently runs on Nickelodeon and is available to stream on Hulu.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

Read more

More GD News