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‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Publicly Reveals ALS Diagnosis

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(Header courtesy of CBR)

It is a not-so-happy day in the world of animated television, as one of its giants has revealed some terrible news concerning health.

Stephen Hillenburg, best known by many generations of animation fans as the creator of Nickelodeon’s hit show SpongeBob SquarePants, has revealed publicly (in a statement to Variety) that he is battling the neurodegenerative disease known as ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS.,” reads his statement. “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.

According to the report, a source close to Hillenburg revealed that he had just recently gotten the diagnosis and that he is in the diseases’ early stages.

At the same time, Nickelodeon also issued a statement concerning Hillenburg’s diagnosis, reading in part: “Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans. Our thoughts and support are with Steve and his family during this difficult time. Out of respect for their wishes for privacy, we will have no further comment.

The 55-year-old animator was born in 1961 in Lawton, Oklahoma before moving to Anaheim, California where he spent his childhood. It was during those years that he gained a passion for sea life and a keen interest in art and animation. Those two interests would follow him throughout high school and into college, where he majored in marine-science and minored in art.

During his time as a marine biology teacher, many of the characters and concepts that would morph into the world of SpongeBob SquarePants blossomed. In 1987, he would eventually leave his job to become an animator. He enrolled in CalArts’ Experimental Animation Program in 1989 and graduated in 1992, earning an MFA degree in experimental animation.

His professional career began as an animator on Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life, from which he “learned a great deal about writing and producing animation for TV.”

In 1997, Hillenburg’s two interests would finally collide when he pitched Nickelodeon executives the idea for SpongBob SquarePants. It was well-documented that, during the pitch, Hillenburg wore a Hawaiian shirt, brought in an underwater terrarium with models of the characters, and had Hawaiian music playing to set the theme. Eric Coleman, who was a Nickelodeon executive back then, called the setup “pretty amazing.” As such, the studio approved the pitch, and the rest was history.

Airing on July 17, 1999 as Nickelodeon’s first Saturday-Morning cartoon, its blend of strange humor, a unique setting, and iconic character designs won the hearts of many a child worldwide. As of today, it is one of America’s longest-running television shows, in addition to being Nickelodeon’s highest-rated show and longest-running franchise. Hillenburg’s work on the show has earned him two Emmy Awards and six Annie Awards.

Since stepping down as showrunner in 2009, Hillenburg has only been involved with the show as an executive producer whilst working on personal projects. His recent work on the franchise was The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, where he conceived the story with Paul Tibbet (current showrunner on SpongeBob) and was the executive producer.

On behalf of everyone at Rotoscopers, my well wishes are to Hillenburg and his family as they go through this difficult time. As such, we respect Hillenburg’s request for privacy.

What fond memories do you have of watching SpongeBob SquarePants? Any favorite episodes?

Edited by: Kelly Conley

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About Brandon Smith

Brandon is your average nerd with a love for nerdy things (games, comics, anime/manga, etc.). He also loves reading and writing and plans to be an author someday. For now, he writes with passion and curiosity about the world of animation. He lives with his family in North Carolina and is currently attending college.
  • Manuel Orozco

    I’m deeply sorry to hear about this! SpongeBob isn’t as fun to watch as when I was a kid but I’ll always have childhood memories. I’ve outgrown from the show when I was either 16 or 17.

  • Firecat

    It was my childhood for a bit.

  • This is so saddening to hear, even if I wasn’t the BIGGEST Spongebob fan growing up, I still watched a lot of those episodes and was mostly fond of that Marching Band episode the most even to this day
    I send my prayers to his family and for his well being as he goes through this ordeal

    • Manuel Orozco

      So I wasn’t the biggest SpongeBob fan either. I even came late to the party sometime afterwards.

  • ValkarieandherInventorChief

    Hi there, I was just wondering are you guys still taking people to write articles or reviews for the site? I would love to do the recap and review’s for all the Race to the edge episodes you didn’t cover.
    Also, how saddening to hear Hillenburg has been diagnosed with ALS. I can only hope we eventually find a cure for thid horrid disease.

    • Kelly Conley

      I’m a copyeditor for Rotoscopers. I don’t know if Rotoscopers is still looking for long-term writers or reviewers right now, but readers can submit articles in “User Posts” at the top of the website (black bar). There is no guarantee that your article will be published, but if you follow the guidelines, write clearly and coherently, and proofread your work before submitting, then you have a high chance of being accepted. I have edited and published several reader-submitted articles. Good luck!

    • brandon

      I have plans for DRAGONS TV Recap that will be revealed at a later date. I’ve never considered having a co-writer, but I’m open to the idea. Like Kelly said, we’re not actively looking at new long-term writers right now (we’re still trying to sign off on submissions from last year), but a co-writer/guest writer ‘stint’ might be arranged.

      That said, I’ll have to see a few articles from you before I’m completely sure about it. Likewise, I’ll have to get our EIC (Morgan) to sign off on the idea.

      Stay tuned.

  • Sharon J. Zarrow

    The goober goober song, ripped pants, Gary come home, tie your show, I can go on forever love spongebob but the reruns are getting old.

  • brandon

    My favorite episode of SpongeBob will always be the health inspector episode. Best example of a ‘comedy of errors’ type of story that’s always common in TV animation. Very fond memories of that episode as a kid.

  • Patrick Moffatt

    My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Hillenberg and his family. I was 2 years old when Spongebob premiered on Nickelodeon for the first time. (My Name is Patrick by the way)

    • Manuel Orozco

      I was 6 when SpongeBob premiered but I didn’t start watching until sometime after maybe a year or two later.

  • Marty Ball

    My daughter and I enjoy “Bobby” together and to this day, our favorite episode is the first. She loves to go through the “smelly, smelly, smell…. ANCHOVIES!” together. She laughs and laughs and it fills my heart with joy.

    • Manuel Orozco

      The Anchovies gag is so classic

  • I hope for the best for Mr. Hillenburg. Spongebob was one of the biggest shows of my
    childhood. The show had its high and low points, but nonetheless enjoyed it for years.