The man who created one of the most recognizable cartoon characters of recent decades Stephen Hillenburg has died at the age of 57. Hillenburg was best known as the creator of the hit cartoon series "SpongeBob SquarePants" which aired on Nickelodeon. The SpongeBob creator passed away after a battle with ALS, which stands for Lou Gehrig's disease.
Hillenburg announced that he was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease back in March. The Nickelodeon network issued a statement on his tragic passing saying, "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."
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The cartoon mastermind was born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1961 and graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a degree in natural resource planning. He originally became a marine biology teacher in Dana Point, California but decided to pursue a career in animation in 1987. Following his career change, Hillenburg graduated with an experimental animation degree from the California Institute of Arts in Valencia in 1992.
In 1993, Hillenburg began writing and directing on Nickelodeon's "Rocko's Modern Life" before going on to work for Nickelodeon full-time. He eventually created and produced his animated series that became "SpongeBob SquarePants". The first episode of the Nickelodeon animated series debuted on May 1, 1999.
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The creator of "Rocko's Modern Life", Joe Murray, recognized Hillenburg's talent when he saw one of his short films and asked him to direct some episodes of his show. Hillenburg said in a 2005 interview, "That was really important for me because I really wouldn't have known how to put a show together without that experience."
The show about a sponge who lived underwater eventually earned multiple awards which included four Emmys and six Annie Awards. Hillenburg even took the series to the big screen in 2004's feature film "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" and "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" the following year. He also said in the Nick Animation interview, "Obviously SpongeBob is a comedy but it really was inspired by me liking marine science. I focused on that and I never thought the two would come together."
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Fans of Hillenburg mourned his passing and tweeted their respects Tuesday.
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