In a tweet on Tuesday, Nickelodeon, the television network largely focused on kids programming, announced that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, passed away. The series, which features a variety of creatures who live on the sea floor, launched in 1999 and became a massive hit, catching the attention of children and adults alike.
Hillenburg, an animator and cartoonist, was the original mind behind the world of SpongeBob. Last year, according to a report by the Daily Mail, he announced to his fans that he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.
ALS is a progressive disease that attacks the nervous system. There is no known cure.
At the time of his announcement, Hillenburg said he would continue to be a part of the show as long as he was able.
In a statement, Nickelodeon called Hillenburg “a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans” while also expressing that their “thoughts and support” were with Hillenburg and his family.
“We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants,” said Nickelodeon in the tweet. “Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work.”
SpongeBob Squarepants is one of the longest-running shows on American television. Additionally, it is the highest-rated show to ever air on the Nickelodeon network.
Two feature films also focused on the characters from the show, including The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in 2004 and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water in 2015.
Hillenburg, who previously worked as a marine biology teacher until leaving to pursue a career in animation in 1989, stated that he had no interest in being in the spotlight.
“I make animation because I like to draw and create things,” he said. “I have no real interest to be on camera or to be a celebrity. It’s not that I don’t like people, but I like having my privacy.”
Hillenburg is survived by his wife Karen and son Clay.