'SpongeBob' creator Stephen Hillenburg dies at 57

'SpongeBob' creator Stephen Hillenburg dies at 57

LOS ANGELES - AP
SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg dies at 57

Stephen Hillenburg, who used his dual loves of drawing and marine biology to spawn the absurd undersea world of "SpongeBob SquarePants," has died, Nickelodeon announced Nov. 27.

Hillenburg died Nov. 26 of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS, the cable network said in a statement. He was 57.

He had announced he had the disease in March 2017. His death comes just weeks after the passing of another cartoon hero in Marvel creator Stan Lee.

Hillenburg conceived, wrote, produced and directed the animated series that began in 1999 and bloomed into hundreds of episodes, movies and a Broadway show.

The eternally, obliviously jolly SpongeBob and his yell-along theme song that opened "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?!" quickly appealed to college kids and parents as much as it did kids.

"The essence of the show is that SpongeBob is an innocent in a world of jaded characters," Hillenburg said in 2001. "The rest is absurd packaging."

Its vast cast of oceanic creatures included SpongeBob's starfish sidekick Patrick, his tightwad boss Mr. Krabs, and his always-exasperated neighbor Squidward Tentacles.

Hillenburg worked on the Nickelodeon show "Rocko's Modern Life," from 1993 to 1996 before he began to build SpongeBob's universe, which showed off his knowledge of marine life and willingness to throw all the details out the window.

The show was an immediate hit that has lost no momentum in the nearly 20 years since its creation and helped define the culture of Nickelodeon.

"He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon," the network's statement said. "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."

Its nearly 250 episodes have won four Emmy Awards and led to an endless line of merchandise to rival any other pop cultural phenomenon of the 2000s.

In 2004, the show shifted to the big screen with "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" and a 2015 sequel, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." David Bowie, Johnny Depp and Scarlett Johansson are among the dozens of major stars who provided guest voices to the show or movies.

Intensely involved in every aspect of the show initially, Hillenburg after the 2004 film stepped back into an executive producer role on the show, where he remained for the rest of his life.

A musical stage adaptation debuted on Broadway in 2017, with music from such stars as Steven Tyler, Sara Bareilles and John Legend. It earned 12 Tony Award nominations, including one for best performance by a leading actor for Ethan Slater.

Stephen Hillenburg, SpongeBob, creator