Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the beloved Nickelodeon animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, died Tuesday at the age of 57.

Nickelodeon confirmed the news on Twitter.


Hillenburg had been suffering from the neurodegenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which he was diagnosed with in March 2017, according to Variety. 

Nickelodeon also released an official statement on Hillenburg’s passing:

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “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.”

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SpongeBob SquarePants, which continues to air on television, first premiered on the network in 1999 and has since aired almost 250 episodes as of today. The show has won both U.S. and British Emmy Awards and Annie Awards. The series has also been dubbed in more than 60 languages. It centers on an anthropomorphic sea sponge named SpongeBob who works as a fry cook and lives in a pineapple in the fictional underwater town of Bikini Bottom. The series was also recently turned into a Tony-nominated Broadway musical.

In addition to writing, directing and producing the hit series, Hillenburg also wrote, produced and directed the 2004 film The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which grossed more than $140 million worldwide. He also penned the story for and served as executive producer of the 2015 film The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. 

Hillenburg started his career as a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute (now the Ocean Institute) in Dana Point, California after graduating from Humboldt State University in 1984. He then transitioned to working in animation three years later and eventually received his Masters in Fine Arts in 1992.

Earlier this year, Hillenburg earned a special Daytime Emmy Award for his work in animation.