Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, has died at 57. Hillenburg passed away following his battle with ALS, which he announced he had been diagnosed with in March of last year. Nickelodeon had this to say in a statement following the news of his passing.

"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 also shared a tweet saying that they are going to observe a moment of silence to honor the late creator. Stephen Hillenburg was born on August 21, 1961, in Oklahoma. He initially graduated from Humboldt State University in California with a bachelor's degree in natural resource planning and interpretation in 1984. Several years later, he enrolled in the California Institute of Arts in Valencia in 1987, marking his transition to animation. Hillenburg graduated in 1992 with a degree in experimental animation.

That same year, Stephen Hillenburg won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his acclaimed short Wormholes. Not long after, Hillenburg got his start at Nickelodeon in 1993. He started out working on several shows from the network's classic era, both as a writer and director, such as /rockos-modern-life-revival-special-nickelodeon/Rocko's Modern Life and Rugrats. It was when Hillenburg decided to create his own animated series that he would make his greatest impact on the world of animation.

Stephen Hillenburg, following his work on those shows, began dedicating his time to writing and creating his own series, which would go on to become SpongeBob Squarepants. The series made its debut on Nickelodeon in May 1999 and the rest is history. It's become one of the most successful shows in the network's long history, having aired just shy of 250 episodes to date. The character has also come to the big screen twice, first in 2004 in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which Hillenburg directed, and in 2015's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. A third SpongeBob movie is set to debut in 2020.

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SpongeBob Squarepants has also become a very large part of internet culture, as the characters and scenes from the show are commonly turned into memes. Additionally, the show managed to make its way to Broadway with the acclaimed SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, which recently wrapped up its Tony Award-winning run. During the show's nearly two-decade run, Stephen Hillenburg garnered nine Emmy nominations, but never won. Hillenburg is survived by his wife Karen, son Clay, mother Nancy and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, as well as his wife Isabel, and nieces Emma and Hazel. RIP, Stephen Hillenburg. This news was previously reported by Variety

Ryan Scott