The Tragic Passing of Stephen Hillenburg

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The Tragic Passing of Stephen Hillenburg

Madison Gallant

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“We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work” was a tweet sent out on Tuesday, November 27 by Nickelodeon.

Stephen Hillenburg was born on August 21, 1961 in the small city of Lawton, Oklahoma. Not too long after birth he was brought to Anaheim, California, where he was raised. At a young age he developed an interest in both oceanic life and drawing. He studied both in college, with a major in marine science and a minor in art. His very first job was as a teacher at Orange County Marine Institute, where he taught marine biology for three years. During his time at the institute, he was prompted to create an educational comic about aquatic life – the comic titled The Intertidal Zone was where he found his initial inspiration for the cartoon, even having characters that were heavily influenced by those in the comic. He attempted to get this comic professionally published, but was turned down multiple times.

After deciding to take the plunge and enrolling in an “Experimental Animation Program” at California Institution of the Arts, he landed his first job at Nickelodeon shortly after his graduation. He was hired as a director for a show called Rocko’s Modern Life which premiered in 1993 with a three year run. During production, writer Martin Olson read Hillenburg’s comic and encouraged him to create a show with the same concept.

“I wanted to create a small town underwater where the characters were more like us than like fish. They have fire. They take walks. They drive. They have pets and holidays” said the creator in a 2004 interview with Biography Today.

The show was a huge success; it premiered in 1999 and is still is still a fan favorite. Many kids were raised on Spongebob Squarepants. Those of us who grew up watching the show have a great sense of nostalgia and many warm memories associated with it, while a whole new generation is being raised on those characters as we all know and love. Though it was technically a children’s comedy, that didn’t stop adults from enjoying Spongebob. It appealed to people of all ages; the silly and cartoonish humor never failed to amuse children, while the more mature audience could appreciate the saucy adult jokes that were often slipped into the episodes.

In March of 2017 Hillenburg announced that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a rare neurodegenerative disease that works to progressively slow down muscles and eventually paralyze them. Unfortunately, it is always fatal. The life expectancy of someone suffering from this disease is roughly two to five years post diagnosis.

He stated that in that time he would continue to work for as long as he was able. He also said that he and his family were grateful for all the support they received after revealing his suffering.

Stephen Hillenburg is an inspiration, and one of the most creative minds of our time. His legacy lives on in the art he made. All thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends; Hillenburg will be greatly missed.