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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.