Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” has died at 57. Hillenburg was diagnosed with ALS last March.
Nickelodeon says Hillenburg died Monday of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS.
Hillenburg conceived, wrote, produced and directed the animated series that began in 1999 and went on to spawn hundreds of episodes, movies and a Broadway show.
In a statement, Nickelodeon said: “We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steven 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.”
The television network tweeted that today they would be “observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work.”
Fans of the show took to Twitter to mourn Hillenburg’s death and honor the impact of his show. One user, Clay, tweeted that Hillenburg was “responsible for making millions of people around the world laugh and smile for decades.”
SpongeBob first aired in 1999, and has since released almost 250 episodes.
Hillenburg was born in Lawton, Oklahoma, on August 21, 1961. In 1984, he graduated from Humboldt State University after studying marine resources, becoming a marine biology teacher in California. His show centers on sea creatures living in the ocean, Bikini Bottom. In 2009, Hillenburg 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.”