The death of Stephen Hillenburg who was the director, writer and producer of the most popular kids’ show on Nickelodeon – SpongeBob Squarepants, turned out to be a sad moment in the lives of a lot of children and adults who shared innumerable laughs, watching the same.
Having been diagnosed with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2017, which was responsible for slowly killing his motor neurons, it seems like the world has taken away this beloved cartoonist and animator too soon.
Stephen McDannell Hillenburg was born on 21st August 1961. Owing to his teacher’s appreciation and mother’s artsy genes, he believed that he had some potential of creating “funny things” in him. At age 15, he snorkelled for the first time at Laguna Beach, California as a part of his occupational program. This experience and consequent dives developed his interest in marine life and he went ahead to study marine biology in college. It was the harmonious blend of two of the most coveted passions that lead him to create SpongeBob Squarepants.
Spongebob Squarepants premiered for the first time in Nickelodeon on 17th July 1999. The show went on to become a quick hit among the audience as it appealed to not just the children but also watchers of all age groups. By 2001, its ratings took over as the most watched television series for kids.
Hillenburg’s education and experience at the orange county marine institute where he taught marine biology sparked an interest in him to create a comic or rather, a show that would be unique and remembered. It wanted “something to be fantastic yet believable”. He focused on his creation to be a reflection of everyday lives of humans and/or the society, but featuring an array of marine life including starfish, lobsters, crabs etc. This gave birth to his main character ‘Bob’, the sponge.
After airing about 3 seasons, he planned to make ‘SpongeBob Squarepants: the movie’ as the season finale, and end the show. However, this was not to be as by this time the show became the highest grosser for Nickelodeon and they wanted more episodes in their daily runs. Following this, Stephen Hillenburg retired as the creator of the show, coming back, later on, to direct and write the second SpongeBob movie in 2015.
The famed animator won accolades for SpongeBob Squarepants like the ‘Best Concept’ at the ‘Ottawa International Animation festival’ and nominated for 17 Emmy Awards, winning in the categories of Outstanding Special Class Animated Program and Outstanding Sound Editing – Animation in 2010 and 2014, respectively… and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
At his final stages, he admitted to having been diagnosed with ALS and said:
“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.”
In confirmation and mourning of his demise, Nickelodeon stated, “Steve imbued Spongebob Squarepants with a unique sense of humour and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere”. Among other noted directors and people of the industry, Voice actors among whom David Hasselhoff, who was a part of the show too showered his respects on social media networking sites, thanking him for his services.
Stephen Hillenburg is survived by Karen, his wife of 20 years and son, Clay.