One of the most-important animators and show creators of the past few decades is sadly no longer with us. According to a report from Variety, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg has died following a battle with ALS, at the age of 57.
Before SpongeBob, Hillenburg worked on two extremely-popular Nickelodeon cartoons in Rugrats and Rocko’s Modern Life. Yet, SpongeBob was his creation and it may go down as the most-popular cartoon in the cable network’s history. It has spawned over 200 episodes, feature films, and even a Broadway musical. Right when you think that the character’s popularity is starting to wane, something happens to bring him back to the forefront. We think that social media and meme culture in particular have led to a resurgence in the SpongeBob character alongside Squidward, Patrick, and many other familiar faces from Bikini Bottom. To go along with the cartoon itself, SpongeBob is enormous in the merchandising world — there is everything out there from clothing to memorabilia to games to so much more. It’s a franchise with enormous size and scope all over the world.
In a statement, Nickelodeon had the following to say about his passing:
“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.”
Probably one of the most-underrated aspects of SpongeBob SquarePants as a series was how Hillenburg managed to inject it with multi-generational appeal. The jokes on the show played well for kids, but there was also something deeper for teenagers and even adults to enjoy, especially in some of the earlier seasons. This is a trait he may have brought over in part from Rocko’s Modern Life, but he perfected it further here with stories that could appeal to almost everyone. This was the rare cartoon that kids could actually watch alongside their parents without said parents getting bored along the way. That brings families together, and there are really not all that many other cartoons that have this same particular quality going for them. We can even speak personally to how SpongeBob SquarePants as a series managed to keep kids around at Nickelodeon right when they were starting to somewhat age out of most of the network’s shows. This was a valuable bridge in which Nick could keep viewers who they could have been losing otherwise to more mainstream programming.
Our thoughts go out to Hillenburg’s family and loved ones during what has to be a very difficult time for them. He will be greatly missed. (Photo: Nickelodeon.)