It is a sad day in Bikini Bottom. Per Variety, Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Nickelodeon’s immortal SpongeBob SquarePants has died, has died after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Hillenburg was diagnosed with ALS last year; he was just 57 years old.

Here is a statement from Nickelodeon:

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.

Hillenburg was a unique artist, with a background not only in animation but marine biology as well. He studied marine science in college while minoring in art; after graduating, he got a job at the Orange County Marine Institute, and worked as a marine biology teacher for several years. Eventually, he decided to go back to school to study animation. He attended the California Institute of the Arts and began making short films.

He first came to Nickelodeon in the mid-’90s as a director on the cult series Rocko’s Modern Life. After the show came to an end, he combined his two passions to create SpongeBob, which has endured on Nickelodeon for 12 seasons and over 240 episodes so far. SpongeBob also spawned two feature films — The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (which Hillenburg co-directed, co-produced, and co-wrote) and Sponge Out of Water — with a third film due in 2020. Hillenburg’s signature creation is a whole empire unto itself: Comics, Broadway musicals, toys, clothes, and so on. It’s one of the most watched children’s shows of all time.

Hillenburg left the series after the completion of the first feature, but returned to work on Sponge Out of Water and remained involved with his beloved creation as a consultant. His death is an enormous loss for the animation world, and for generations of fans who’ve grown up adoring the goofy, adorable sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

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